Wide Bandgap Semiconductors Stage a Power Play

Article By : George Leopold

The wide bandgap semiconductor market is seen headed north of $1 billion, based on their adoption in power electronics...

Growing demand for power supplies, photovoltaic inverters and hybrid and electric car components is helping the power electronics sector achieve critical mass.

Omdia, the London-based technology forecaster, discerns a transition occurring in the nascent market for gallium nitride and silicon carbide wide bandgap semiconductors as plucky startups are snapped up by established power IC manufacturers. Hence, it is forecasting the GaN/SiC sector will exceed $1 billion in revenues in 2021.

Decades-old issues involving cost and yield linger. As we recently reported, GaN and SiC are looking more promising in high-power and high-temperature applications where silicon falls short.

The current scaling of the power IC sector is attributed mainly to the number of startups that “have now been swallowed up by large, established silicon power semiconductor manufacturers,” notes Richard Eden, Omdia’s power semiconductor analyst.

Leading the acquisition binge is Chicago-based Littlefuse Inc., which snapped up SiC startup Monolithic Semiconductor in 2018. It acquired IXYS Semiconductor in 2017. Other key power semiconductor acquisitions included Microchip Corp.’s 2018 deal for Microsemi and its power semiconductor portfolio.

Meanwhile, the GaN market has coalesced around a number of alliances, including ROHM Semiconductor and GaN Systems, as well as foundry services for producing GaN-on-silicon epiwafers and devices. Those moves have established a viable fabless GaN manufacturing capability, Omdia said.

“GaN is already progressing into the AC/DC side with an explosion of GaN adapters hitting the market in late 2019 and ramping to huge volumes in 2020,” Larry Spaziani, GaN vice president of sales and marketing, told EE Times in June.

power semiconductors

Despite the bullish revenue forecast for the overall power semiconductor sector, the market tracker notes that relatively high wafer prices continue to slow expansion of SiC substrates. One reason is the continuing lack of competition. It noted several supplier agreements, including deals among Cree Inc.’s Wolfspeed power and RF unit and Infineon Technologies, STMicroelectronics and ON Semiconductor as well as partnerships with automotive suppliers.

The GaN sector has shown more innovation, especially among wafer producers. The “biggest surprise in 2019,” Omdia said, was Power Integrations’ production of a GaN system chips on sapphire substrates while in stealth mode. “The company has taken a different approach to competitors by co-packaging GaN switches with silicon driver and protection ICs in its third generation of integrated InnoSwitch devices,” Omdia reported.

The market tracker predicts that bulk GaN wafers, currently small and expensive, may finally drop in price as new Chinese suppliers come online.

Either way, the power electronics sector is expected to hit $5 billion in revenues by 2029, with discrete SiC power devices accounting for the lion’s share of market growth through the end of the decade.

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