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SiC circuits can work at over 350 degrees C

New research hopes to improve the performance of processors, drivers, controllers and other circuits
Engineering researchers at the University of Arkansas have designed integrated circuits that can survive at temperatures greater than 350oC - or roughly 660 degrees Fahrenheit.

Their work, aims to improve the functioning of processors, drivers, controllers and other analogue and digital circuits used in power electronics, automobiles and aerospace equipment - all of which must perform at high and often extreme temperatures.

The SiC wafer which contains more 1000 individual circuits

“This ruggedness allows these circuits to be placed in locations where standard silicon-based parts can’t survive,” says Alan Mantooth, Distinguished Professor. “The circuit blocks we designed contributed to superior performance of signal processing, controllers and driver circuitry. We are extremely excited about the results so far.”

The research is critical because one-third of all power produced in the United States passes through some kind of power electronic converter or motor drive before it reaches the end user.

Circuits developed by the University of Arkansas team hope to enable tight integration of control in the tough environmental conditions these applications demand. They could also improve electrical efficiency while reducing the overall size and complexity of these systems.

The researchers worked with SiC as it is able to withstand extremely high voltage and is a good thermal conductor, meaning it can operate at high temperatures without requiring extra equipment to remove heat.

Last autumn, the U of A circuit design team celebrated the completion of more than forty SiC circuit functions.

The research team, led by Mantooth and Jia Di, professor of computer engineering, achieved the higher performance by combining SiC with wide temperature design techniques.

In the world of power electronics and integrated circuits, the researchers say their work represents the first implementation of a number of fundamental analogue, digital and mixed-signal blocks, such as a phase-locked loop using a complimentary-style SiC technology.

A phase-locked loop, or PLL, is a control system that generates an output signal whose phase is related to the phase of an input signal. Such a function is critical in a number of circuit applications such as signal synchronisation, frequency synthesis, and modulation and demodulation schemes.

The research was part of the National Science Foundation’s Building Innovation Capacity program, which is designed to partner university and industry research to build intellectual collaborations so that innovations flow from ideas to solid research results, company prototypes and products. The University of Arkansas and two Fayetteville technology firms, Ozark Integrated Circuits and Arkansas Power Electronics International, form the basis for this innovation ecosystem. Raytheon is also a key partner.

Ozark Integrated Circuits is commercialising the circuit technology, while Arkansas Power Electronics International focuses on using the circuits in power applications.

The research funding was awarded to Arkansas Circuit Design Centre, which is comprised of two laboratories, one directed by Mantooth and one by Di. The Arkansas Circuit Design Centre supports the mission of the University of Arkansas’ National Centre for Reliable Electric Power Transmission, which is funded as part of the federal government’s focus on research and development on smart grid and renewable technologies.

This centre investigates electronic systems to make the nation’s power grid more reliable and efficient. The U.S. Department of Energy has funded the centre since 2005. Mantooth is executive director of the centre.

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