News Article

Semiconductors Jostle For Places In Power Electronics Industry

Yole Développement reports on how compound semiconductors are crucial to the rapidly growing power electronics market

In 2012, all semiconductor devices - discrete, modules and ICs - dedicated to the power electronics industry will reach $20 billion in market size, reports France-based analyst business, Yole Développement.

With applications as diverse as hybrid cars, PV inverters, lighting, energy, and voltage ranges as wide as a few volts to a few thousands volts, power electronics is and will remain one of the most attractive branches of the semiconductor industry for the next decade.

According to the analyst, the power electronics industry now deals with conversion and motion and needs lighter/smaller, cheaper and more efficient systems. The four technologies, best suited to handling new system requirements are silicon IGBT, Super Junction (SJ) MOSFETs, GaN and SiC based devices.

As Yole points out, the well-established IGBTs already account for $1.6 billion in the medium to high voltage market while the SJ MOSFET market will reach $567 million by the end of the year.

GaN and SiC promise to surpass silicon performance and enhance inverter capabilities, although the materials are still expensive and the technology is not ready yet, reports Yole. GaN requires technological enhancement of the manufacturing process, especially for the epitaxy thickness, and SiC is expensive, prohibiting implementation in consumer markets.

But, as Yole highlights, both materials are well developed in the LED industry, and plenty of LED players are looking at opportunities in the power electronics sector.

Technology positioning will also take place. Yole expects to see a segmentation between technology and the power/voltage range, with some segments only accepting a single, “best" technology.

Industry differences

The industry varies from technology to technology. While SJ MOSFETs see new players and foundry service suppliers, the IGBT dies’ industry is consolidating based on a number of large players, such as Infineon, Mitsubishi Electric and Fuji, involved in many applications.

However, the IGBT (and SJ MOSFET) modules business is increasing and Yole has noted new players entering to provide solutions for cooling, interconnections, substrates, packaging, and gel.

Meanwhile, the SiC industry, which has been led by CREE, is now an interesting playground for new players. With access to lower cost material, the SiC industry now has the possibility to ramp up and get organised, asserts Yole.

However, apart from the PFC business, technological capabilities of SiC show that it will surely be dedicated to high power/voltage applications. Last but not least, SiC companies have appeared in China, which will definitely provide competition and tougher access to local markets.

At this point in time, the GaN industry is mostly a US business. International Rectifier, EPC, Transphorm, Microsemi or GaN Systems now propose fully off-the-shelf or customised products.

Some pioneers, such as MicroGaN, NEC and Powdec, are showing a trend towards globalising the GaN manufacturing industry. However, the market is still soft and LED players are considering using their technological platform to enter this power electronics market, which will be very much low power/voltage oriented.

As Yole also highlights, while the power electronics industry has great growth potential, technological and cost requirements imposed to power semiconductors are driven by the inverter industry.

Power semiconductors are “just a piece" of the power electronics industry, and the power semiconductor industry has to answer requirements from a bigger system; the inverter. Indeed, power devices ameliorations will be useful only if they fit with passive and connective devices, defined by inverter needs.

And as Yole concludes, geographical positioning is also critical in the power electronics area, especially with the boom in China and other emerging countries, but also because several applications (PV, wind, electric vehicles) are supported by local governments.


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