SEMICON West preview: Potential $45B power device market looks to new substrates, packaging, process flows

Alternative energy applications may help drive the power semiconductor market to $45 billion by 2014, according to IHS iSuppli. To meet their needs for more efficient high-voltage power management, growing markets like solar generation and vehicle electrification need are looking to GaN and SiC, innovative high-temperature packaging technology, and integrated process flows for integrating high voltage or RF with conventional CMOS. Analysts estimate better power electronics have the potential to reduce the world's electricity consumption by some 20%-30% by 2025.

Demand for PV inverters will expand with the solar market to reach $4 billion by 2015, reports Yole Développement, while after about 2015 utilities will start investing in new high-end power management for more efficient distribution of electricity on the grid. Major automakers around the world are developing hybrids and electric vehicles, but a bigger market first is the increasing electrification of mainstream vehicles. The only way that future fuel efficiency and emissions standards can be met, especially in Europe, is by more electronically controlled smart power management, argues Cherif Assad, business leader for global power train and hybrid electric vehicles at Freescale Semiconductor—from systems that automatically turn the engine off and on instantly as the car stops and starts in city traffic, to electric motors that replace mechanical oil and water pumps.

Power devicemakers see substrate technology as one key to better efficiency in many of these growing high-voltage markets, and are increasingly turning to SiC and GaN, but also to superjunction and neutron transmutation doped silicon. GaN-based power conversion devices are poised for commercialization, argues Tim McDonald, VP of emerging technologies at International Rectifier. "There will still be improvements from next-generation silicon, but we're reaching the point of diminishing returns," he says. "So GaN is next." The company plans to introduce 600V GaN-on-Si devices later this year, and sees the potential for GaN-based power conversion products to offer 2×-3× better performance/cost than existing silicon solutions. McDonald projects that 1%-2% of all power conversion applications will use GaN in 3-5 years.

Technology positioning, 2015 forecast. (Source: Yole Développement)

Better high-temperature packaging without high costs is another key technology issue to solve, driven particularly by the demanding conditions of the electric and hybrid vehicle applications. Companies are replacing wire bonding with approaches that range from sintering to nanoparticle silver paste to eutectic bonding, as well as putting heat sinks on both sides of the die for double-sided cooling. "Packaging looks like the biggest opportunity now, the key enabler," says Laura Marlino, deputy director of the power electronics and electrical power system research center at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Also coming to the power electronics world is a new level of integration, potentially reducing size and costs and improving energy efficiency by combining high-voltage devices with other functions on the same chip in relatively conventional CMOS process flows. One example: IBM Microelectronics' new foundry process combining high-voltage capability, CMOS logic control, and RF communication for smart wireless power management, aimed initially at enabling fine-grain smart wireless monitoring and control of PV systems. "The integration of HV and RF function on one piece of silicon represents a new paradigm," says James Dillon, from IBM's Systems and Technology Group. — Dr. Paula Doe, SEMI Emerging & Adjacent Markets

These hot topics in power semiconductor manufacturing technology will be the focus of this year's program on emerging energy technologies at the Extreme Electronics TechXpot, Tuesday afternoon, July 12, featuring speakers from Freescale Semiconductor, Yole Développement, International Rectifier, SemiSouth, Oak Ridge National Lab, and IBM.

Solid State Technology, Volume 54, Issue 7, July 2011

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