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SiC Market Moves Into Overdrive

Electric vehicle OEMs are forming alliances with SiC vendors.

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The silicon carbide (SiC) power semiconductor market continues to heat up in the automotive arena.

In recent times, several automotive OEMs have formed a series of alliances with SiC device makers, and for good reason. In a major way, many automotive OEMs are entering or expanding their efforts in the battery-electric car market.

SiC power semiconductors are among the key components used in electric cars. The devices help improve the efficiency in many parts of the vehicle. And so, OEMs want to form partnerships with SiC vendors to ensure a source of supply for devices and wafers.

SiC, a compound semiconductor material based on silicon and carbon, enables specialized and fast power semis that switch currents at high voltages. SiC power MOSFETs are used in power supplies, solar inverters and battery-electric cars.

Not long ago, SiC was under the radar. The situation began to change in 2017, when Tesla began using STMicroelectronics’ SiC power devices for the traction inverter within its battery-electric Model 3 car. The traction inverter provides traction to the motor to propel a vehicle. SiC devices are also used for the DC-to-DC converter and on-board charger in systems.

In 2019, the activity has moved into overdrive. In May, Cree was selected as the exclusive SiC partner for Volkswagen’s Future Automotive Supply Tracks (FAST) Initiative. The aim of FAST is to speed up product development times. VW is committed to launch almost 70 new electric models in the next 10 years.

Then, in September, Delphi Technologies and Cree/Wolfspeed announced a partnership to utilize SiC device technologies in future electric vehicles. Cree’s SiC MOSFETs will be used in Delphi’s 800 volt inverters for a premium automaker.

Also in September, STMicroelectronics was chosen to supply SiC power electronics by Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi for on-board chargers in its upcoming electric vehicles.

Other deals are also in the works. With that in mind, SiC is taking off and bucking the trend in the overall power semi market. Power semis include IGBTs, power MOSFETs as well as SiC and gallium-nitride (GaN) power semis.

The silicon-based devices, such as IGBTs and power MOSFETs, dominate the business for most apps. But the wideband gap technologies, such as SiC and GaN, are coming on strong in a cyclical market.

“Looking at the overall power electronics market, 2017 was a very good year. And 2018 was even better with an increase by almost 14%,” said Hong Lin, an analyst at Yole Développement, in a recent Webinar. The overall power device market reached $17.5 billion in 2018, according to Yole.

“In 2019, the year began on a very positive note. But demand is dropping, because the major customers still have a lot of inventory from last year. We are also expecting another slowdown in 2020,” Lin said.

In 2018, SiC represented only 3% of the overall power semi business, according to Yole. “But if we are looking forward, we see the market share of silicon carbide growing very fast. (Silicon-based devices) are growing at single digits. Silicon carbide is expected to have double-digit growth and we are expecting this share to approach 10% in five years’ time,” Lin said.

In total, the SiC device market is expected to grow from $420 million in 2018 to $564 million in 2019, according to Yole. In 2020, the market is expected to reach $803 million, according to the firm.

SiC devices are used for power systems and solar inventers, but electric cars represent the largest market. So in automotive, look for more action in SiC segment for the remainder of this year and next.

In many ways, the market is just moving from first gear to the next level.



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