24-07-2020 | | By Robin Mitchell
RoHM and LEADRIVE announced their plans to establish a joint laboratory in the Free Trade Zone (FTZ) in Shanghai to develop Silicon-Carbide (SiC) devices. What is the free trade zone, and what does SiC provide engineers in modern power electronics?
The FTZ in Shanghai, as the name suggests, is a free trade zone. Free trade zones are designated areas that provide many economic benefits to both businesses and individuals. For example, FTZs generally have low to no tax rates, allow for goods to be shipped, modified, and redistributed while paying no duties customs, and allow for capital to be held without being subject to local regulations. The Shanghai Free Trade Zone was established in 2013, and now has over 50,000 member companies coving an area of over 120km2. The FTZ was established in an attempt for China to experiment with foreign investments as well as better understand different economic models.
SiC is the acronym for Silicon-Carbide and is a semiconductor technology that is quickly replacing silicon in the power electronics industry. The reason for this comes down to the superior power properties that SiC has over silicon. For example, SiC has a much greater electric field strength meaning that it can handle higher voltages without suffering from a breakdown. SiC also has greater thermal conductivity than silicon, meaning that it can handle higher temperatures and is better at dissipating heat. While SiC devices are more expensive than silicon, they will gradually become cheaper as the technology becomes more established.
What is Silicon-carbide: A semiconductor technology with a strong electric field for handling high voltages, and great conductivity for handling high temperatures.
Recognising the importance of SiC devices in DC/DC conversion systems and electric vehicles, ROHM and LEADRIVE have partnered together to create a laboratory aimed at developing SiC technology. The opening ceremony, hosted in the Shanghai Pilot Free Trade Zone, demonstrated to the industry the importance of SiC technology, and the growing interest in high-power devices. Since 2017, ROHM and LEADRIVE have worked together exchanging experimental and technical information regarding SiC devices in automotive electronics. The joint laboratory is dedicated to researching vehicle power modules and inverters using SiC MOSFETs and isolated gate drivers produced by ROHM.
“The adoption of power modules that integrate SiC chips for new energy vehicles will become an industry trend over the next couple of years. Commercialising mature SiC-equipped devices by collecting resources from around the world, and carrying out R&D gives us a competitive edge as an automotive Tier 1 manufacturer. ROHM has been a strong partner since LEADRIVE was founded. This joint research laboratory will allow us to deepen our collaboration,”
Dr Jie Shen, Chairman and General Manager at Leadrive Technology (Shanghai) Co., Ltd..
ROHM is not the only silicon manufacturers to work on SiC devices; other companies operating in the same field include ST, Wolfspeed, Infineon, and Onsemi. While SiC devices have only been available since 2008, their advantages have been recognised by many with development and research exploding. It is important to note that Silicon Carbide will replace silicon in power electronics. Still, it will unlikely replace computational devices as silicon has the advantage of being established for more than 50 years, complementary transistors that are well known, and the ability to create silicon wafers with ease. One of the significant issues with Silicon Carbide devices are defects that readily form when creating wafers.