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With the improvement of the global SiC power semiconductor market, the market competition has quietly begun.

In recent years, with the growth of electric vehicles and other systems, silicon carbide (SiC) power semiconductor market is experiencing a sudden surge in demand, which also attracts the attention of industry chain-related enterprises. Under the trend of further mature industrial application, the battle for SiC is on the horizon.

According to Yole D veloppement, the global SiC power semiconductor market will grow rapidly from $302 million in 2017 to $1.399 billion in 2023. The annual composite growth rate (CAGR) of the market scale from 2017 to 2023 is 29%. The driving force is from the demand of hybrid electric vehicles, electric power and photovoltaic (PV) inverters, etc. The market potential is huge.

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On May 8, 2019, Cree announced that it would invest $1 billion in expanding SiC (silicon carbide) production capacity by building an automated 200 mm SiC (silicon carbide) production plant and a material super factory with the most advanced technology in Durham, North Carolina, the company's headquarters. This expansion will bring about a 30-fold increase in SiC silicon carbide wafer manufacturing capacity and a 30-fold increase in material production.

The deal is Cree's biggest investment in manufacturing, and it heralds a renewed battle for SiC capacity.

SIC's Past and Present Life

SiC (silicon carbide) has many other uses besides abrasive because of its stable chemical properties, high thermal conductivity, low thermal expansion coefficient and good wear resistance. In addition, the hardness of SiC (silicon carbide) is very high. Its Mohr hardness is 9.5 grade, which is second only to the hardest diamond in the world (grade 10). It has excellent thermal conductivity and is a semiconductor which can resist oxidation at high temperature.

Compared with ordinary silicon, components using SiC (silicon carbide) have the following characteristics:

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Nowadays, SiC power devices have been regarded as "ideal devices" because of their high voltage withstand, low loss and high efficiency. Since the discovery of SiC, research on it has never stopped.

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In addition, especially at the ICSCRM 2013 conference of SiC Semiconductor International Society, internationally renowned manufacturers of semiconductor devices, such as Corey, Mitsubishi, Roma, Infineon, Feizhao, etc., all presented the latest mass-produced SiC devices at the conference. The industrialization of silicon carbide devices has once again become a major concern of the industry.

As SiC (silicon carbide) is the most mature wide band gap semiconductor material, countries around the world attach great importance to its research, and have invested a lot of manpower and material resources to actively develop it. The United States, Europe, Japan and other countries have not only formulated corresponding research plans from the national level:

USA: In January 2014, US President Barack Obama personally led the establishment of the Third Generation Broadband Semiconductor Industry Alliance represented by SiC. Behind this initiative is the strong support of the United States for the third generation broadband semiconductor industry represented by SiC semiconductor.

Europe: German Infineon and 17 European companies jointly established Smart Power Management (Smart Power Management) organization to expand the application of silicon carbide in power supply and electrical equipment. The "High Efficiency Electric Vehicle Program" of the European Nanotechnology Advisory Committee (ENIAC) focuses on the application technology research and development of silicon carbide power devices in new electric vehicles, led by Infineon.

Japan: In 2013, the Japanese government incorporated SiC into the Prime Minister's Strategy, believing that 50% of energy saving in the future should be achieved through it to create a new era of clean energy. Japan's Ministry of Economy and Industry has actively carried out research and development and production of silicon carbide to promote the application of silicon carbide in communication power supply, hybrid electric vehicles, renewable energy converters, industrial motor drive and other fields.

In addition, some international electronics giants have invested heavily in the development of silicon carbide semiconductor devices. At present, many manufacturers have begun to produce silicon carbide devices such as Cree, Microsemi, Infineon and Rohm.

SiC battle quietly started

From the perspective of industrial process, SiC research has experienced many peaks. However, due to the factors such as process technology and production capacity, how to balance the performance and cost becomes the most important factor in the industrialization of SiC devices.

In recent years, due to the rapid development of emerging industries such as electric vehicles, the demand for SiC devices is on the rise, which further promotes the industrialization process, thus further tightening the supply of upstream wafers. In addition to Cree's investment, Rom, another SiC manufacturer with full supply chain advantages, has previously announced its expansion plan.

It is understood that Roma will expand the production capacity of SiC power control chips used for electric vehicles (EV) and other purposes, and will build a new plant in the post-construction plant of its production subsidiary ROHM Apollo (Fukuoka County), which is expected to start construction in February 2019 and finish construction in December 2020.

In addition, in September 2017 and January 2018, Japan Showa Electric announced an increase in production of SiC wafers to cope with the growth of market demand. However, due to the rapid growth of SiC power supply control chip market, Zhaotai Electric also announced the third round of production increase plan recently. It is understood that after three production increases, the monthly production capacity of SiC wafers has been increased from 3,000 to 9,000, sufficiently reflecting the strong demand in the market.

In this context, the downstream factories also benefit from this. In September 2018, X-Fab announced plans to double the capacity of its 6-inch SiC process plant in Texas to meet customers'growing demand for high-efficiency power semiconductor devices. To double the capacity, the X-Fab Texas plant purchased a second heated ion implanter for making 6-inch SiC wafers.

At present, there are only three or four enterprises in the world that can provide stable SiC wafer production capacity. In the short term, upstream wafers are still in short supply, and device manufacturers have signed long-term contracts to ensure production capacity supply. Take Cree as an example, Infineon signed a strategic long-term supply agreement with it in 2018. Subsequently, Italian Semiconductor signed a $250 million wafer supply agreement with Cray. The strong demand in the downstream has led upstream manufacturers to throw out plans to increase production in order to compete for downstream orders or ensure the stable supply of devices.

In addition to the upstream capacity competition, the competition in the field of SiC devices is obviously more intense. Including Ansenmei, Toshiba, Fuji Electric, Mitsubishi, Infineon, Roma, Italian-French Semiconductor, Littelfuse, General Electric and GeneSiC are eager to try.

SiC Layout in China

Compared with foreign markets, the research work on SiC materials and devices in China is relatively late. With the support of the Ministry of Science and Technology and the military pre-research project, some achievements have been made, and the gap with foreign advanced technology has been gradually narrowed. Some applications have been made in the military industry. However, the main research results are still in the laboratory stage, and the device performance is still far from that of foreign countries.

With the implementation of the 13th Five-Year Plan, many local governments began to support local SiC and GaN materials enterprises with certain advantages, and also made a series of progress and breakthroughs.

In January 2018, with the technical support and assistance of the Institute of Microelectronics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Zhuzhou Zhongche Times Electric Co., Ltd. successfully completed the technical debugging of the first 6-inch SIC (silicon carbide) chip production line in China. The plant operation, power, process and testing conditions are complete, and the research and manufacture of 4-inch and 6-inch SiC SBD, PiN, MOSFET and other devices can be realized.

On May 1, 2018, the first domestic 6 inch silicon carbide (SiC) MOSFET wafer developed by Shanghai Zhanxin Electronics was born in Shanghai Lingang Science and Technology Forest. The wafer level test results show that the electrical parameters are up to expectation, which lays a solid foundation for further optimization of process and device design.

In December 2018, BYD released a technology called "IGBT 4.0", which attracted considerable attention in the electric vehicle industry, breaking the current situation that domestic silicon carbide high-power devices are monopolized by Infineon, Germany, Fuji, Japan. In addition, BYD announced that it has invested a huge amount of money in SIC (silicon carbide), which is expected to launch SIC (silicon carbide) electronic control in 2019. Electric cars.

SiC (silicon carbide) industry chain includes upstream substrate and epitaxy links, upstream device and module manufacturing links and downstream application links. In recent years, China is gradually improving its layout in the relevant industrial chain.

At present, domestic SiC substrate manufacturers include Tianke Heda, Shandong Tianyue, Hebei Tongguang, Beijing Century Golden Light and Zhongke Energy Conservation.