How Silicon Carbide Is Improving Energy Efficiency & Lowering Costs In Industrial Applications

Demand is increasing for high-efficiency power supplies and power conversion systems as manufacturers seek to keep factory costs down.


Industrial applications such as server power supplies, uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), and motor drives consume a significant portion of the world’s power. Thus, any increase in the efficiency of any end user power system will substantially reduce a company’s operating costs. Combined with greater power density and better thermal performance, the demand for high-efficiency power supplies and power conversion systems is increasing.

Several factors are driving this growth. The first is rising global energy awareness and increasing urgency to use energy more wisely and efficiently. The second is the Internet of Things (IoT), which has resulted in the introduction of new technologies and services of all kinds into industrial applications. With Smart Industry initiatives such as Industry 4.0, machines and factories, workplaces are becoming more intelligent through the connection of devices that help achieve greater autonomy, efficiency, reliability and safety.

However, industrial automation, such as robotic and motorized production lines, comes with escalating use and cost of electricity to power these systems. To stay competitive, manufacturers need to be able to develop new operational practices that keep factory costs down. They also need to make the most of every square meter of floor space as equipment footprint directly impacts operational costs.

The demand for greater efficiency & lower cost
As industrial equipment often runs 24/7, any improvement in efficiency quickly translates to real savings in terms of significantly reduced energy consumption. The most immediate way to address energy issues is to increase the energy efficiency of the systems that power these industrial systems.

For this reason, there is tremendous pressure from industry, government, and manufacturers to develop more efficient power supplies. Three characteristics — power density, thermal performance and conversion efficiency — are among the biggest challenges for designers of power supplies. In addition, designers need to meet these challenges while minimizing overall system cost.

Traditional approaches to power supply design will continue to provide some improvement in these areas, but gains will be limited as developers have been focused on squeezing more from these systems for years. To achieve significant improvement, new approaches are required.

Silicon carbide delivers
Silicon carbide (SiC) is a wide bandgap semiconductor base material. It can be used as discrete components such as Schottky diodes and MOSFETs as well as bare die in any footprint of power modules.

Historically, silicon (Si) has been used as the semiconductor material for the majority of power electronics applications; however, Si is an inefficient foundation for power supply systems when compared to silicon carbide. SiC offers many advantages, including higher thermal conductivity that results in more efficient heat transfer; a lower on-state resistance that decreases conduction losses; silicon carbide-based components are capable of higher switching frequencies, allowing for smaller magnetics, which can greatly decrease system size.

Industrial applications that benefit from silicon carbide
With these characteristics, silicon carbide-based components enable power supplier designers to reach new levels of efficiency. The impact of the material can be seen in a number of industrial applications: power factor correction (PFC), in server power suppliers, and electric vehicle charging.

For PFC, the use of silicon carbide enables today’s efficiency regulations to be achieved whilst requiring fewer components, is more cost effective and achieves a higher power density. This leads to reduced system size, weight and cost. Furthermore, in addition to reducing overall energy consumption, the higher efficiency achieved improves thermal performance, leading to additional reductions in the size and weight of the power supply. For server power supplies, the advantages of silicon carbide in the PFC stage will help improve data center efficiency in many ways over the coming years. For example, silicon carbide-based MOSFETs and diodes utilized in data centers today improve server thermal performance to yield 40% saving in cooling-related energy costs alone.

For electric vehicle charging, silicon carbide enables fast DC charging, with up to 30% lower losses and requiring 30% fewer components. This also results in a design with fewer components, smaller size, and lower system cost while enabling bi-directional power transfer.

Silicon carbide will continue to improve efficiency
The demand for silicon carbide is growing as the need for lighter, more efficient and cooler power conversion systems grows. The wide bandgap semiconductor components produced enable dramatic technology shifts currently underway within the automotive, communications infrastructure and industrial markets.

The unique attributes of silicon carbide reduce the amount of energy the world consumes. After all, the world runs on power (and a lot of it), and as concerns continue to grow regarding sustainability, silicon carbide enables a future where the world can do much more with less.

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