Advances in semiconductor technologies, capacitors, magnetics and packaging are needed to drive growth in the U.S. power electronics industry, according to a new report from the Power Electronics Industry Collaborative (PEIC). It will also require collaboration in the supply chain and ecosystem to advance the domestic power electronics industry.
While the need for innovation in semiconductors and passive components are two of the biggest challenges faced by the U.S. power electronics industry, the report also cites other roadblocks including a lack of strong power engineering talent, competition from overseas manufacturers, cost pressures, and a need for manufacturing innovation.
However, the report concludes that these challenges are not insurmountable obstacles if different parties within the power electronics ecosystem work on different challenges while supporting overall growth together.
One of the key drivers behind new opportunities for innovation in power electronics is recent advances in power semiconductor technology, according to the report. This is in combination with market and regulatory environments that are creating demand for these systems that take advantage of the new semiconductor technologies.
“Recent advances in power semiconductor technology, particularly in wide bandgap materials, have opened up significant new opportunities for the U.S. power electronics industry, along with corresponding challenges,” said Keith Evans, PEIC president, in a statement. “The goal of PEIC’s participation in creating the report was to identify those technology and manufacturing challenges, and to present key strategic recommendations for the U.S. to develop effective solutions to meet the growing demands for efficient power electronics.”
The report, Strengthening the Domestic Power Electronics Ecosystem, finds that the U.S. power electronics industry faces several key technological and manufacturing challenges in order to meet global demand for systems that need to operate at higher temperatures, higher frequencies, and higher voltages in smaller packages at a lower total system cost. This translates into the need for accelerated development of new semiconductor technologies, as well as performance advances in capacitors, magnetics and packaging, which includes significant improvements in manufacturing and production processes.
“The implication of improved semiconductor performance has ripple effects throughout the supply chain for power electronics,” according to the report.
In terms of semiconductors more work has to be done in the development of wide bandgap (WBG) semiconductors, including silicon carbide (SiC) and a gallium nitride on silicon (GaN-on-Si), which are just at the beginning of commercialization, and bulk GaN, which is now being explored for its performance. SiC and GaN “offer the potential for smaller, more robust, higher power devices that switch faster and are more energy efficient than silicon (Si) based devices,” according to PEIC.
In addition, there is more “aggressive development” underway for ultra-wide bandgap (UWBG) semiconductors like gallium oxide (Ga2O3), aluminum gallium nitride (AlGaN) and diamond due to additional performance advantages over SiC and GaN-on-Si.
Although the new WBG and UWBG semiconductors can operate at higher voltages and temperatures, other components like capacitors and magnetics that make up a power electronics system do not meet these new levels of performance, posing growth roadblocks for advanced semiconductors.
As a result, the power electronics industry requires collaboration and partnerships in the component supply chain to deliver capacitors that can operate at higher temperatures and voltages, and magnetics that operate at higher frequencies in order to leverage these advances.
In addition, new packaging techniques and materials – primarily in the areas of die attach and interconnection – also are needed to improve the performance of power electronics systems at higher temperatures with improved reliability. The report finds that “current interconnection methods are also prone to failure and lose reliability at higher temperatures.” However, several techniques are under development, including ribbon bonding, ball bonding, and embedded packaging, to solve these interconnection challenges.
The technology roadmap – the result of a two-year study funded by a grant from the National Institute of Standards & Technology’s Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia (NIST AMTech) – provides an analysis, including key technology and market trends, of the domestic supply chain to advance power electronics. It also provides recommendations and next steps for the U.S. to leverage these technological advances and trends.