The move to silicon carbide is key to power management. “We revisited our strategic plan where we decided to focus on IoT and smart driving, and we have decided to add power management to IoT and smart driving,” said Jean Marc Chery, CEO of ST (above, speaking today).
“Before, power devices were considered as enablers of smart infrastructure and the smart home but the management team of ST has decided that power management is a key driver for the future for widebandgap materials,” he said. “This is a game changer in the field of high voltage power devices and ST as a pioneer of this technology wants to go very fast and take a lead in this, with a high level of market share well above 30%.”
The market for power semiconductors in electric cars will reach over $3bn in 2025 and $10bn in the next decade, he says, and he intends to dominate this with silicon carbide. “ST definitely want to be the leader in high voltage devices,” he said.
The initial focus will be on silicon carbide, manufactured at the power fab in Catania, Sicily since 2003, starting on 2in wafers. Catania now handles 6in silicon carbide wafers produced by a number of supliers including Cree. ST bought a majority stake in Norstel in Norway earlier this year and says it is pushing suppliers partners to produce 8in SiC wafers for high volume production.
“Today we purchase wafers but through Norstel our ambition is to be vertically integrated and have this fully in-house,” said Marco Monti, president of ST’s automotive division.
The company will also move from planar device structures to trench SiC by the end of 2019 which will increase the number of chips per wafer. “Now we are qualifying the trench technology and will convert next year to all trench manufacturing, running the two in parallel,” he said. “We will stay with the planar for automotive applications.”
While the main use for SiC will be 650V MOSFETs for inverters and energy recovery in electric cars as well as fast DC-DC chargers, 1200V and 1700V devices will be used in solar panel inverters and smart grid infrastructure, as well as data centre power.
The company is also developing gallium nitride technology that will be manufactured in Catania and Tours, France, by the end of 2019, says Monti.
The SiC and GaN devices will be supported by driver chips built on the bipolar-CMOS-DMOS (BCD) smart power process at fabs in Agrate, Italy, and at Catania, to provide the necessary inductive and capacitive galvanic isolation. “What we call drivers are built in the BCD technology where we have a 40 percent market share,” said Monti.