Norstel SiC wafers pave way for high-tech electronics at Anvil

By Antonio Torrisi
Published: Wednesday, 22 October 2014

UK’s Anvil to use SiC in semiconductors; material gaining share in growing EV market

Sweden-based Norstel AB is to supply silicon carbide (SiC) epitaxial wafers to British company Anvil Semiconductors Ltd for the fabrication of vertical power devices.

Norstel will provide single-crystal epitaxial layers and n-type conductive and semi-insulating SiC substrates to Anvil, which has manufacturing facilities in Cambridge and Coventry, UK.

It will also assist Anvil with the characterisation and polishing of semiconductors for use in power and high-frequency electronics.

Anvil is currently developing vertical Schottky barrier diodes and metal-oxide semiconductor field-effect transistors (MOSFETs), based on 3C-SiC layers deposited on silicon wafers with applications in power devices, LEDs, medical devices and microelectromechanical systems (MEMs).

“Our proven high-quality production expertise and capabilities in SiC epitaxy have helped Anvil to demonstrate the viability of their 3C-SiC solution,” Norstel’s chief commercial officer, Ronald Vogel, said.

“Norstel’s manufacturing capacity will pave the way for Anvil’s volume production,” he added.

Jill Shaw, Anvil’s CEO, said that Norstel’s SiC wafers will pave the way for the use of multi-wafer reactors at Anvil.

The company will use 150mm diameter wafers for its 3C-SiC solution, which will enable it to manufacture both 650V and 1200V electronic devices.

Power electronics to drive SiC demand

Although silicon is still the major material used in electric power transmission devices, SiC is becoming an increasingly popular material in the semiconductor industry, owing to its potential to improve high-voltage applications.

According to the China Semiconductor Association (CSA), SiC-based power devices can have a voltage as high as 200,000V, compared to the 6,000V power typical of silicon-based power devices.

The CSA said that smart grid construction in China will require power devices with voltages higher than 10,000V, which will move the domestic power electricity industry towards the use of SiC.

China is also developing photovoltaic (PV) panels to exploit renewable solar energy, targeting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10GW new solar capacity to 2015.

The solar market consumes silicon carbide (SiC) for wafer slicing, fused silica for crucibles, and high-purity quartz and soda ash for the manufacture of the cells.

General Electric to develop SiC chips

In July, New York State governor Andrew Cuomo and General Electric’s (GE) CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, announced a $500m project to spur the high-tech manufacturing of miniature electronics in the US.

GE will develop low-cost SiC wafers to be used in smaller, lighter and more powerful semiconductors for computers and technology in solar power, health care and aviation.

New York State will invest $135m for the collaborative project, which will be based at the SUNY College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering in Albany, US.

SiC applications in electric vehicles

According to a report published by RNR Market Research in September, the SiC-based semiconductor market is expected to grow at a 42% CAGR to 2020.

Asia-Pacific countries will drive the growth at a 43.5% CAGR, accounting for 36.5% of SiC-based semiconductor market share in 2013, the report said.

Meanwhile, US-based research and advisory firm Lux Research claims that SiC and gallium nitride materials will replace silicon in electric vehicles (EVs) by 2020.

Lux said in a report published in August that the use of SiC devices can save up to 5% electric energy in plug-in EVs.

In May, Japan-based automotive manufacturers Toyota Motors and Denso developed a SiC-based power semiconductor for applications in automotive power control units (PCUs).

According to the two firms, the new semiconductor will improve hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) fuel efficiency by 10% and reduce PCU size by 80% compared with silicon-base conventional units.

Toyota explained that PCUs account for about 25% of the total electric power loss in HVs, with a 20% total loss being associated with power semiconductors.

As SiC power semiconductors have low power loss during on/off switching, they enable a more efficient current flow in HEVs even at higher frequencies, the company said.

In December 2013, Toyota constructed a clean room for the production of SiC-based semiconductors at its Hirose plant in the city of Toyota, Japan.

Toyota and Denso will begin test driving of HEVs with the new PCUs on public roads in Japan within a year.