Not long ago, STMicroelectronics outlined its plans to develop the silicon carbide (SiC) business as a key part of its strategy and revenues at its Catania, Italy facility. At ST's recent quarterly and annual results presentation, ST President and Chief Technology Officer Jean-Marc Chery reiterated his plans to occupy a 30% share of the $3.7 billion SiC market by 2025.
Due to its high withstand voltage, low loss, and high efficiency, SiC allows power devices to break through the limitations of silicon, resulting in better conductivity and power performance. These improvements are in line with the needs of the current automotive electronics, industrial automation, and new energy sectors. Therefore, major manufacturers have launched a layout on SiC.
The silicon carbide market is growing amazingly
According to Yole's "Power Silicon Carbide (SiC) Materials, Devices and Applications - 2018 Edition" released in 2018, the total market value of SiC power will exceed $1.4 billion by 2023, and the compound annual growth rate from 2017 to 2023. (CAGR) will reach 29%. Currently, the SiC power market is still primarily driven by diodes used in power factor correction (PFC) and photovoltaic (PV) applications. Yole expects that the main factor driving the growth of the SiC device market in the next five years will be transistors, which will have a compound annual growth rate of 50% between 2017 and 2023.
From the perspective of industrial chain, SiC includes single crystal substrate, epitaxial wafer, device design, device manufacturing, and other aspects, but the current global silicon carbide market is basically monopolized by foreign companies. Among them, especially in the United States, Europe, and Japan. The United States is in a leading position, accounting for 70%-80% of global SiC production; Europe has a complete SiC substrate, epitaxy, device and application industry chain; Japan is the absolute leader in equipment and module development.
The active SiC market has attracted the attention of many companies in the industry. Specifically, in the global market, single crystal substrate companies mainly include Cree, Dow Corning, SiCrystal, II-VI, Nippon Steel & Sumitomo, Nortel, etc.; epitaxial wafer companies mainly include Dow Corning, II-VI, Nortel, Cree, Luo M, Mitsubishi Electric, Infineon, etc.; major-related companies in the device, including Infineon, Cree, Roma, STMicroelectronics and so on.
However, it is limited by the current high price of SiC products, and because of its high requirements on the external environment during the crystal growth process, the quality of the produced SiC raw material crystal columns is unstable. As a result, there are not enough wafers to supply the market. Thus, SiC products have been monopolized by a few companies.
In 2001, Infineon of Germany introduced SiC diode products, and manufacturers such as Cree and STMicroelectronics of the United States also followed the introduction of SiC diode products. Then, Japan's Rom, Nippon Wireless, and Renesas Electronics also produced SiC diodes. After that, the global market structure of SiC has basically taken shape. In recent years, due to the general optimistic demand for automotive electronics, SiC traditional manufacturers have made new moves.
Strong international marketers
Since the beginning of 2019, STMicroelectronics has been active in SiC. In addition to the introduction of STMicroelectronics, SiC is divided into key components of the company's strategy. STMicroelectronics also signed an agreement with Norwegian silicon carbide wafer manufacturer Nortel to acquire a 55% stake in February this year. It is reported that Nortel was spun off from Linkping University in 2005.
In January 2017, Nortel was acquired by Essence Capital. The funds came from the 50 billion yuan (US$7.4 billion) fund project jointly established by the Fujian Provincial Government and the National Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund. Sanan Optoelectronics participated in the management of the fund. Nortel produces 150mm SiC bare wafers and epitaxial wafers. STMicroelectronics said that after the transaction is completed, it will control the entire supply chain of some SiC devices with limited global capacity. As materials and SiC-based products become more mature, STMicroelectronics has developed automotive-grade SiC power devices that are becoming a key driver of automotive electrification.
Before the STMicroelectronics, the same big producer of SiC, the German manufacturer Infineon also took action here. Infineon has launched the Coolpix series, which covers a wide range of applications, such as photovoltaics, electric vehicle charging, electric vehicles: increasing driving range, reducing electrical system size, UPS/SMPS1, traction and motor drive. In November 2018, Infineon announced that it had acquired a start-up company called Siltectra, which included an innovative technology cold cut (Cold Spilt).
It is reported that "Cold Cutting" is an efficient processing technology for crystalline materials that minimize material loss. Infineon plans to use this technology for the cutting of silicon carbide (SiC) wafers, and it has not achieved industrial-scale use of the technology in the next five years. This will double the number of chips that can be produced on a single wafer and further increase the market for silicon carbide. It is understood that as of 2018, Infineon SiC accounted for more than 50% of the market in the charging pile market.
In addition, ROHM also paid close attention to SiC early on and began to cooperate with users and universities to accumulate technical experience. In 2018, ROHM announced that it has officially invested in the silicon carbide (SiC) MOSFET module (rated specification 1200V/180A) for inverters/converters such as industrial devices and solar power regulators. Mass production.
ROHM plans to reach 30% of the company's SiC-related products in the industry by 2025. The main areas covered by ROHM silicon carbide power components include vehicle power supplies, solar power conditioners, and power storage systems, servers, and EV charging stations. Among them, EV charging station products can account for 39% of the company's total SiC devices.
However, not everyone agrees with the application prospects of silicon carbide power devices. ABB is an expert in high-power semiconductors, but in 2002, the joint development center in Sweden terminated the SiC development project. The chief engineer of R&D at ABB Switzerland Semiconductors said: "SiC is suitable for low-voltage unipolar diodes in the short term, and it also has potential for low-power bipolar transistors and junction field-effect transistors in high-frequency applications. SiC looks in the long run It is still more worthy of attention in high voltage applications than other types of switching devices."
So, what is the domestic silicon carbide market?
Domestic players are catching up
After years of layout, the third-generation semiconductor industry in China is experiencing rapid development. SiC materials and devices are in full force, and the domestic competition pattern has begun to show. Among them, SiC single crystal and epitaxial wafer are relatively mature links in the domestic SiC industry chain.
In terms of single-crystal substrates, the domestic substrate is mainly 4 inches. At present, a 6-inch conductive SiC substrate and a high-purity semi-insulating SiC substrate have been developed. According to CASA data, Shandong Tianyue, Tianke Heda, Hebei Tongguang, and Zhongke Energy have completed the research and development of 6-inch substrates. The CLP equipment has developed a 6-inch semi-insulating substrate.
In terms of epitaxial wafers, domestic Tiantiancheng, Dongguan Tianyu Semiconductor, and National Technology subsidiary National Tiancheng can supply 4-6 inch epitaxial wafers, and 13 of the CLP divisions and 55 have internal supply epitaxial wafer production departments.
In terms of devices/modules/IDM, China lacks in the design of silicon carbide devices, and no manufacturer has involved this. However, in the module and device manufacturing process, a number of outstanding enterprises have emerged in China, including Sanan Integration, Haiwei Huaxin, Tyco Tianrun, Zhongche Times, Century Golden Light, Core Light Run, Shenzhen Basic, Guoyang Electronics, Silan Micro, Yang Jie Technology, Zhanxin Electronics, Tianjin Central, Jiangsu Huagong, Dalian Core Crown, Ju Licheng Semiconductor. At the same time, BYD also announced that it has invested heavily in the layout of semiconductor material SiC (silicon carbide).
Current mainstream SiC power device products, including metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistors (MOSFETs) to replace silicon-insulated gate bipolar transistors (IGBTs) in applications above 900V, and alternative silicon fast recovery in applications above 600V (FRD) Schottky diode. In addition, international manufacturers have already laid out the layout on 1200V products. Although China has made some breakthroughs in this field, it will still be slightly inferior.
From the application point of view, the main layout areas of domestic SiC enterprises are mainly concentrated in the fields of new energy power generation, new energy vehicles, rail transit, and smart grid. It is basically consistent with the key areas of international market development.
In the face of the actions of international SiC manufacturers, domestic SiC-related companies should pay close attention to research in this field. Perhaps in the near future, with the outbreak of third-generation semiconductor materials applications, the domestic semiconductor market will usher in another picture.
In this multi-party melee SiC market, who do you think will be the final winner?