The Need for ITRW
Riding the waves of wide bandgap semiconductors
Research and development activities in wide bandgap (WBG) devices have grown fast to the extent that good quality production devices are entering the commercial market. The increasing interest and activities in WBG devices arise from three facts:
Limitation of traditional silicon (Si) devices: The attempt to drive towards a viable 7-nm process, which is known to reach the physical limitation of ten Si atoms, has been delayed due to the complex procedures and requirement for expensive fabrication equipment. In addition, ever-increasing power density and heat dissipation requirements also pose significant obstacles to the commercialization of a 7-nm process. These are the reasons why Intel, the leading giant in Si devices for high-density processors, publicly announced that they hold conservative opinions on the mass production of 7-nm Si devices in the future1. The WBG semiconductor is regarded as one of the major steps forward in the seemingly darkest age of Si devices since the establishment of Moore's law. WBG materials have superior advantages for many applications, especially power electronics, including higher mobility, electron density, breakdown voltage, and heat conductivity. Moreover, under similar working principles, many of the standard Si-based processes can be adapted for WBG, which will potentially reduce investment costs and shorten development cycles.
Emergence of new devices and extended applications: With the aforementioned advantages, WBG devices are highly suitable for harsh working conditions such as high voltage, temperature, frequency, and radiation exposure, which extend their application to extreme environments from outer space to the deep sea. For example, applications now using WBG devices include spacecraft, aircraft, high-speed trains, ocean oil drilling platforms, electric vehicles (EVs), hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), and intelligent manufacturing. The working voltage in these applications can reach as high as 10 kV and the heat flux can exceed 1*107 W/m2, which is far beyond the realm of Si devices. Furthermore, with the new concept of the Internet of Things (IoT), many application areas are developing very quickly, including smart cities and big data, new sensors, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), smart power systems, and 5G communication networks. Those application areas require new technologies, such as power electronics, RF devices, and solid-state lighting. For those technologies, WBG devices are key and considered the driving force for next-generation electronic industries.
Ever-increasing need for low carbon emission and energy-saving: Global economic growth results in increased consumption of fossil fuels and excessive CO2 emission. According to the EIA report, only 50% of the generated energy will reach the end-load. Green energy, EVs, HEVs, and high-efficiency power modules are potentially dominant solutions for energy saving and WBG devices will play an indispensable role in all of them. As 2020 approaches, when the total CO2 emissions should decrease by 40%, WBG devices will play an even more significant role in enhancing the world economy and environment.
In a nutshell, WBG devices have the potential to be the most important devices for the future of both microelectronics and power electronics while becoming one of the major engines of driving the world economy over the next several decades. Recognizing current trends and facts, there are clear requirements from industry, academia, education, and public authorities to have a reliable and comprehensive view of the strategic research agenda and a technology roadmap for WBG semiconductor devices. This is the primary motivation to establish the International Technology Roadmap for Wide Bandgap Power Semiconductors (ITRW). The ITRW working group will provide insightful strategic research and a roadmap on a biennial basis and provide professional reference and guidelines to industry, academia, education, and public authorities.
2016 has been identified as an optimal year for the ITRW for the following reasons:
- Timing: After years of dedicated research and development, WBG semiconductors are increasingly showing significant technology prospects and the potential to return business value.
- Technology Maturity: The wafer manufacture and post-process are becoming mature. Therefore, the costs can be confidently controlled within a marketable range. Recently, there has been a complementary expansion of bespoke circuit design companies, fabrication facilities, dedicated WBG modules, packaging technology, and system integration companies focused on WBG devices.
- Notability: Compared to the Si age, the emergence of WBG devices is a more global process. Participants from all over the world are at a similar status, preparing for the takeoff of the WBG industry. The ITRW can help provide guidance and a neutral forum to assist this global effort, which will benefit the world economy.
Technical analysis will be carried out by the ITRW working groups. The working groups will meet regularly and report back to the steering committee at the executive meetings held during major conferences in the power electronics field. The initial subgroups in the technical committees have been identified as:
- Materials and Devices
- Packaging and Integration
- System Integration and Application (SiC)
- System integration and Application (GaN)
The working group scope includes the following:
- Acknowledging Moore's law, the ITRW will be an engine of the virtuous cycle (e.g., with power density scaling, improved performance, improving cost ratio, and finally the market and economy). The growth of the market will, in turn, benefit from new technology investment and development. Therefore, the ITRW will provide solid supporting evidence for the technical feasibility and the underpinning economic validity of this ecosystem.
- The ITRW also has a strong perspective effect: it will provide research guidance, landscape analysis, and applications forecasting for the actors in the semiconductor ecosystem. Therefore, it will significantly contribute to technology exploration and increase resource efficiency in the very fast technological development of the industry.