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The Secret to Silicon Carbide Wafer Success

The Secret to Silicon Carbide Wafer Success

Almost all the devices we use today rely on semiconductors. New technological advancements require silicon carbide (SiC) to be used in many demanding semiconductor applications. Due to its physical and electronic properties, SiC-based devices are well suited for high-temperature and high-power/high-frequency electronics, enabling advancements in EV, 5G, and IoT technologies. While they offer many benefits to the end user, the production of high-quality SiC substrates presents a number of challenges for wafer manufacturers.

Semiconductors improve our daily lives

We have followed Gordon Moore’s Law to levels once unimaginable, and semiconductors have revolutionized the way we work, communicate, travel, play, harness energy and treat disease. Not only do they enable useful devices in our everyday lives, but they also make them more compact, cheaper, and more powerful. Take the development of mobile phones, for example: the first mobile phones in the 1980s were very bulky, cost almost the same as a car, and took only about 30 minutes to charge.

Today, our smartphones are highly intelligent mobile devices that are nearly as powerful as regular computers and accessible to everyone. Surprisingly, the greatest potential is still ahead. As the cornerstone of technology, SiC-based semiconductors will continue to deliver major breakthroughs: transforming entire industries, from aerospace and consumer electronics to energy and medicine.A good example of this shift is the automotive industry.

Electric vehicles have evolved from an ecological niche to an everyday preferred alternative. This development was supported by a more powerful electric drivetrain, using higher currents and more efficient circuits. This is where silicon carbide plays a leading role.

Why choose silicon carbide?

The answer is simple: at higher voltages, more power, more efficiency, and better reliability. Not only in industry, but also in semiconductor materials themselves. To meet the growing demands of electronic devices, silicon carbide has become the substrate material of choice for advanced semiconductors, especially power electronic devices.

It can increase the dielectric breakdown field strength by 10 times, the breakdown voltage by 15 times, and the thermal conductivity by 3 times. Additionally, silicon carbide enables higher operating temperatures (up to 400°C versus 150°C for silicon) and has 2-3 times more current density.

The performance of silicon carbide semiconductors at high temperature, high pressure and power has led to increasing demand in multiple industries. For example, data centers use silicon carbide as a power source, greatly reducing the power required for cooling systems.

Additionally, an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system ensures stable, consistent power. Another example is 5G base stations: they process more and more data, resulting in increased power requirements. Silicon carbide semiconductors are used in megahertz switching and provide higher power in a smaller form factor.

Silicon carbide enables breakthrough in electric vehicles

The automotive industry in particular benefits from the advantages of silicon carbide. Manufacturers like Porsche are able to convert 400-volt batteries to 800-volt batteries due to the higher efficiency of silicon carbide semiconductors. This results in faster charging times, smaller batteries and longer range. Other applications that benefit from SiC:

⊕ Car battery charger: Convert external AC to DC to charge the battery, which can increase the power by half

⊕ On-board DC/DC Converter: Convert on-board battery voltage to clean 12VDC bus to power on-board equipment

⊕ Power system: inverter, motor and its mechanical accessories with drive train. Switching losses are less than 80% and size is reduced by 30%. Smaller battery (lighter weight, less heat) and longer battery life

⊕ Off-board DC fast charger: DC charging station for fast charging

Challenges facing the industry

With demand expected to increase significantly over the next five years, the main challenge for the industry is not only the absolute number of wafers required, but also the changing wafer specifications. Tighter tolerances and specifications will drive current and future manufacturing methods. Innovation is critical to overcoming these challenges. Taking a proactive approach to anticipating changes in manufacturing technology requires deep relationships with process engineers and R&D based on trust and expertise to develop next-generation products.

Silicon carbide substrate manufacturers are motivated to improve process efficiency and reduce wafer production costs as the market struggles to achieve price parity between power devices and silicon-based devices. In addition, huge growth in demand (accelerated mass production, new facilities, etc.) and global supply chain constraints in the face of surging demand for SiC-based applications require innovations in manufacturing processes.