We are living in a power-hungry society.

September 30, 2021

There are several driving forces that require new and more efficient ways to transform and transfer electric power. One of the biggest is the automotive industry, which is in the midst of transitioning to electric vehicles.

Attending Semicon Taiwan’s Power and Opto Semiconductor Week (held in September) we learnt that solutions in the semiconductor industry are emerging and evolution is underway to tackle the power challenge. What if semiconductors could be the key to solve the issue more than the problem?

Moving to compound, wide-bandgap (WBG) semiconductor chemistries for power electronics could be the way to go as these next generation semiconductors can provide a step up in efficient power usage for a wide range of applications, including automotive.

 

The Power and Opto Semiconductor Week had a fully packed schedule of knowledgeable presenters teaching about the drivers, benefits and opportunities of next generation of Power Semiconductors:

Transition to electric vehicles

By now the transition to electric vehicles seems inevitable. Billions of dollars are being spent to develop and produce electric vehicles at scale in an industry that is used to produce millions of vehicles a year. However, electric vehicles still struggle with some drawbacks. According to Mr. Young Liu, Chairman of Foxconn, the 3 major issues the industry is facing in the electrification of the automobile are:

  • Charging speed
  • Range
  • Cost

Developments in power semiconductors can help solve all these issues. So far most of the focus in the public has been on the performance and the cost of batteries. However, a significant portion of the cost of an electric car comes from semiconductors. Especially power semiconductors, such as the ones used in the main inverter or the on-board charger are critical to the primary task of the car: to drive.

 

Figure 1: Source Ms. Claire Troadec Yole Dévelopment: Compound-Power : The never ending surprise story!

Semiconductors play a significant role in the overall efficiency of an electric vehicle.

Here the use of compound semiconductors such as SiC or GaN can provide many benefits such as higher power, higher frequencies, smaller size and fewer energy losses.

A good example of this evolution is the SiC inverter in the Tesla Model 3 which weighs only 4kg compared to the 25kg of a traditional silicon-based inverter.

This example also highlights the sheer scale of future demand. The model 3 alone requires tens of thousands of wafers a year and as the industry is increasing production to tens of millions of electric cars, millions of wafers will be required to satisfy that demand.

Figure 2 Mr. Dustin Ho Applied Materials: Tesla Powertrain and SiC Demand

Our outlook

WBG devices have only just begun realizing their full potential and a lot of growth still lies ahead.  Further innovation across the supply chain — from manufacturing to inspection — is required to enable high volume manufacturing and make these devices available to everyone.

 

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