Silicon Carbide and the Future of Industrial Applications

Nov 17, 2020
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Silicon Carbide and the Future of Industrial Applications

Led by the automotive industry, Silicon Carbide (SiC) is becoming the go-to material for the most demanding applications

Today’s industrial applications have changed the future of power forever. With higher-power requirements and a simultaneous emphasis on the importance of efficiency, engineers from a variety of markets are looking for answers to meet these increased demands. That answer is here — silicon carbide.

Silicon carbide: A solution that’s literally out of this world

First, let’s cover briefly what Silicon Carbide is exactly and some of the ways that it differs from traditional silicon. One interesting fact about SiC is that the carbide component of Silicon Carbide is not a naturally occurring substance. In fact, carbide was first discovered from the debris of a meteorite. Its unique properties were so promising that today, we synthesize carbide for use in our SiC power products.

In fact, Wolfspeed has been perfecting the use of SiC for the past 30+ years. Today, we quite literally take sand and coal and, through a complex process and adding of epitaxy, can produce SiC built to withstand the power demands of today’s modern systems.

This Silicon Carbide is used to fabricate bare dies, discrete Schottky diodes, and power MOSFETs, and then these diodes and MOSFETs are used in both discrete packages and modules.

You might be wondering: Why go to all this trouble? The reality is, when it comes to the most demanding of applications, Wolfspeed Silicon Carbide outperforms silicon time and time again.

With Wolfspeed SiC used correctly, you can achieve incredibly high power conversion capability versus incumbent silicon. You can increase switching speeds and reduce losses and passive components. Wolfspeed SiC also improves thermal performance.

But all of these statements mean nothing without concrete statistics to back them up. Implemented correctly, Wolfspeed SiC can reduce system-level losses from converters or inverters by as much as 50% to 80%. Furthermore, Wolfspeed SiC can help reduce the size or increase power density by 3× to 4×. Overall system efficiency can be improved by several percent, thus lowering entire system losses. This is why SiC is a disruptive technology against silicon.

Wolfspeed SiC adoption accelerated by the automotive market

While many verticals are taking notice of the unique performance advantages of SiC, one of the biggest change-drivers is the automotive industry. In the last year, automotive OEMs have invested over $350 billion in the electrification of vehicles. When it comes to EVs, SiC is the material of choice. Why? Because automotive applications demand not only the highest levels of performance but also quality, supply chain stability, and reliability. To this end, Wolfspeed has a selection of SiC power products that are AEC-Q10-certified for use in automotive applications.

But why is the automotive industry so keen to move away from traditional silicon and toward SiC? It’s a simple matter of dollars and cents. In electric vehicles, batteries are time and time again the most expensive component. In a recent report from Goldman Sachs, they reported that by implementing SiC, battery costs can be reduced by $300 to $600.

These incredible savings are achieved through the optimization of the drivetrain. If you look at the combined city and highway drive cycle, OEMs have proven that by implementing SiC, they can reduce the losses of EV inverters by up to 80%. That means that for the same battery size and cost, you can have extended range. Conversely, you can also potentially reduce the size and cost of the battery. So the small value-add of bringing SiC into the drivetrain from a pricing perspective is considerably outweighed by the performance savings.

Furthermore, when you reduce loss, you reduce some of the burden on the car’s cooling system. The savings achieved here, according to Goldman Sachs, equates to $500 to $1,000 per car.

EV batteries are just one area of automotive benefitting from the capabilities of Silicon Carbide. Another massive growth segment has been in off-board charging, particularly quick-charging DC-to-DC stations. When equipped with SiC, these quick-charging stations see increased energy efficiency, reduced size and costs, and increased reliability.

In fact, Silicon Carbide has been shown to reduce overall system losses by 30% in EV quick-charging applications. Furthermore, SiC can increase power density considerably, so fast-charging stations are smaller, faster, and better.

Wolfspeed SiC: Powering the future of solar

Another significant growth segment for SiC is solar and energy storage. While this has been a favorite application of SiC for many years, recent advancements in SiC led by Wolfspeed, as well as increased emphasis on alternative energy, have further energized (pun intended) this market.

So why is Wolfspeed SiC becoming a favorite for solar applications? Take this real-world example: If you have a 50- or 60-kW inverter and swap Wolfspeed SiC technology into the boost converter, you can increase the switching frequency by 2× to 3× compared with silicon. This, in turn, reduces your magnetics considerably, giving you huge space savings and significant cost reduction as well.

Wolfspeed SiC to meet the demands of today’s IT systems

In the enterprise IT industry, modern data centers are increasing the demand for servers that are not only incredibly high-performance but also energy-efficient. Energy Star efficiency regulations continue to evolve, and today, the Titanium Energy Star standards simply demand more efficiency than what can be achieved with traditional silicon.

The SiC opportunity for industrial applications continues to grow

Frommotor drives to solar inverters, industrial equipment to manufacturing equipment, and even robotics, all of these systems share in common a main power path. Generally speaking, in just about all of these systems, this power comes from an auxiliary power supply — and Silicon Carbide can help improve the efficiency, reliability, and performance of these systems.

In fact, SiC not only increases efficiency and reduces cooling requirements for many industrial applications, it also can help simplify design by reducing passive components and enabling simpler designs (such as a flyback converter in place of other more complex designs) without sacrificing performance.

The world is changing — and Wolfspeed is ready

Wolfspeed has been leading the SiC market for over three decades. We are the largest manufacturer of base wafers and base material in the world. While we have the largest market share of SiC devices in the world, we aren’t satisfied and are doubling capacity year on year. We’ve all seen this adoption, and we’ve gone through why the market is adopting Silicon Carbide. We believe in the future of SiC and have clocked 6 trillion field hours of product. Time and time again, we’ve seen the proof that SiC is ready for the future of innovation — and that’s what drives us.

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