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SiC and GaN electronics market stays subdued

Despite trebling in value between now and 2012, sales of wide-bandgap electronic devices will remain dwarfed by the GaN LED and laser diode markets, says the latest report from Strategies Unlimited.

Sales of electronic devices based on wide-bandgap semiconductors including GaN, SiC and AlN will likely reach $170 million in 2012.

That s according to the latest thinking from market research firm Strategies Unlimited, whose report "Wide-bandgap Electronics - 2008" was released earlier this month.

Report author Tom Hausken measured the 2007 market for wide-bandgap electronic devices at just under $50 million, indicating that the sector will treble in value over the course of the next five years as first microwave and then power semiconductor applications begin to proliferate.

Hausken says that this is the most realistic scenario, and is more pessimistic than some other market commentators (see related stories). But, says the analyst, better-than-expected commercial breakthroughs could see the sector valued at $300 million by 2012, in what is his most optimistic scenario.

Hausken forecasts that microwave applications, currently responsible for some 80 per cent of sales, will continue to dominate the wide-bandgap scene, with power management applications likely to be worth only $10 million-$20 million annually over the next couple of years.

That split should skew more towards power applications in the longer run, and Hausken predicts approximately $60 million in sales for this sub-sector in his 2012 "most likely" scenario.

One of the major problems with current wide-bandgap device technologies is the very high cost and, when compared with more mature semiconductors, low quality of available substrate material on which to produce epiwafers.

Wide-bandgap materials still typically sell for a few thousand dollars per 2-inch wafer. And while even this expense can be acceptable in the context of a high-value RF system for military or telecommunications use, a serious drop in cost will be necessary for these devices to penetrate the more commoditized power semiconductor applications.

Part of the problem is that unlike LEDs, where active-layer defect densities as high as 107cm-2 are tolerable and still allow reasonable wafer yields, electronic devices are not nearly so forgiving.

In this respect, electronic devices are similar to GaN-based blue laser diodes, which are now being fabricated in production volumes thanks largely to Sony s PlayStation 3 games console and Blu-ray Disc players. To make its blue lasers, the Japanese electronics company is believed to have bought some $50 million worth of GaN substrates from local vendor Sumitomo Electric Industries (SEI) during 2007. That this supply deal alone was worth more than the entire market for wide-bandgap electronic devices in 2007 illustrates the market disparity between electronic and optoelectronic applications.

SEI uses a process based on a combination of hydride vapor phase epitaxy (HVPE) and epitaxial lateral overgrowth (ELOG) to manufacture these substrates with defect densities as low as 104-105cm-2 in the so-called "sweet spot" regions of each wafer.

Regarding electronic applications, Hausken believes that devices based on GaN will enjoy greatest success in RF and microwave systems, where they are already starting to gain a foothold thanks mostly to market leader Eudyna Devices (see related stories).

And although GaN may also gain a small share in power management applications, it is SiC that Hausken expects to dominate this sector, with Cree leading the charge along with two major silicon houses in ST Microelectronics and Infineon.

Strategies Unlimited s "Wide-bandgap Electronics - 2008" report is available now via the company s web site.

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