Silicon Carbide-Gallium Nitride Semiconductor Research
Power America CTO lectures at SEMI Technology Symposium (STS)
The United States is focusing on R&D of high-efficiency power semiconductors. The goal is to enhance the competitiveness of domestic manufacturing industries and improve energy efficiency by developing power semiconductors that will complement the disadvantages of existing silicon (Si) wafer-based semiconductors. It was not until 2015 that the US power semiconductor R&D effort had come to fruition. The US Department of Energy's Advanced Manufacturing Office, along with North Carolina State University, established Power America, a research institute. The United States operates 14 high-tech manufacturing research institutes to improve manufacturing competitiveness, and Power America is one of them.
Power America's primary goal is the development of silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN) power semiconductors. These power semiconductors, which process and adjust power to improve energy efficiency, are wide band gap (WBG), which is more stable at higher temperatures than conventional silicon semiconductor devices while also having high thermal conductivity and low resistance.
Silicon carbide power semiconductors in particular have low power loss when converting power. Energy losses can be reduced by more than 70% compared to power conversion in general power semiconductors. Recently, its installation on new industrial renewable energy infrastructure and electric cars is increasing. This is the background that Korea and many other countries are interested in. Traditional silicon power devices were used primarily in power electronics due to their low-cost mass production, good material quality, ease of handling, and proven reliability, but were limited by narrow bandgaps and electric fields.
Power America receives $140 million (about 160 billion won) annually for five years starting in 2015. It is operated based on the matching fund scheme where the Energy Department will provide $70 million (approximately $ 80 billion) and the industry and the University of North Carolina support as it as well. Power America has a mission to develop and apply power semiconductor technology to save energy and create jobs.
Victor Veliadis, Professor of the North Carolina University, has been Vice Chairman and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Power America since 2016. Veliadis, a 21-year veteran of the semiconductor industry, said at the SEMI Technology Symposium (STS) lecture with the Semicon Korea 2019 exhibition on June 23, that "We will strategically allocate more than 30 million dollars (about 34 billion won) to 35 industry, university, and national research projects. The goal is to demonstrate US leadership in broadband gap semiconductor manufacturing, human resource development, job creation, and energy saving." Power America is also paying attention to WBG device packaging and modules. It is also a field that the US is behind.
Power America composed of 46 people expects to implement a low-cost WBG manufacturing strategy by introducing a 200-mm wafer in the near future, with WBG devices expected to reach silicon and 1.5-fold price parity within five years.
Currently, WBG commercialization is delayed because of the high cost and shortage of manpower. WBG devices are more expensive than mass-produced silicon due to their small production capacity and the fact that they are not fully loaded. There is also a lack of expert knowledge of WBG technology. The power electronics industry is relatively slow to adapt to new technologies and changes. There is less interest in WBG equipment, and the value of WBG system integration is not widely shared, causing the industry to be reluctant to invest their R & D resources.
According to the market researcher INI R&C, the global power semiconductor market is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 9.6% from $12.1 billion in 2012 (about 13.7 trillion won) to $25.2 billion in 2020 (about 28.5 trillion won). The automotive power semiconductor market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 13.6% from $3.1bn in 2012 to $ 8.6bn in 2020. The market for industrial power semiconductors is expected to grow at an annual average rate of 12.0% from $3.4 billion (about 3.8 trillion won) to $8.4 billion (about 9.5 trillion won).