UK establishes first industrial supply chain for high-power SiC and GaN trench devices

19 April 2021

Power electronics, machines and drives (PEMD) supply chains play a critical role in the global decarbonisation effort and in achieving Net Zero targets. PEMD applications require robust devices that can operate at high voltages, temperatures and frequencies, as well as the ability to handle high current densities. Wide bandgap (WBG) semiconductor materials are ideally suited for such applications and allow for an increase in system efficiencies and reduction in weight and volume.

Compound semiconductor (CS) materials silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride on silicon carbide (GaN-on-SiC) are frontrunners in the field of high-power devices and identified as optimal WBG materials for trench-based vertical devices to increase device performance.

Rob Harper, Programme Manager Power and RF at the Compound Semiconductor Centre said, “Whilst the UK has strong industrial expertise in PEMD systems development, there has been a lack of a coordinated PEMD supply chain in the UK until now, with high-volume supply of vertical SiC transistors being identified as an opportunity gap, particularly for the growing electric vehicle (EV) industry”.

SOCRATES is a 9-month project that is part funded by the Catalysing Green Innovation challenge, via UK Research and Innovation and aims to address these opportunities in the UK PEMD supply chain. The consortium led by SPTS Technologies, a KLA company, also includes Newport Wafer Fab, Swansea University, Compound Semiconductor Centre and CSconnected and will deliver industrial processes for SiC and GaN-on-SiC trench etching, as well as in-line fabrication processes for integration of the etch into high-volume manufacturing.

Huma Ashraf, Process Technology Manager at SPTS Technologies commented: “This is an exciting project for SPTS; as a UK based global company in the semiconductor industry we have a strong customer base overseas and we look forward to supporting the UK activity in the decarbonisation effort through regional collaboration. As we have seen with silicon in the past, SiC and GaN are moving towards vertical, trench-based structures and SPTS’s wafer processing solutions and extensive experience in compound semiconductors are well-suited to deliver this at an industrial scale.”

In addition to the extensive capabilities at SPTS in etch technologies, the project also benefits from years of know-how in power device fabrication at Newport Wafer Fab (NWF), the UK’s largest semiconductor fabrication facility. Sam Evans, Director of Quality & External Affairs at Newport Wafer Fab said, “The power semiconductor device market is going from strength to strength, with EVs, renewables and wider electrification efforts paving the way for rapid growth in demand for SiC devices.”

Associate Professor Mike Jennings at Swansea University commented, “Here at Swansea University, we have invested heavily in 6”and 8” fabrication facilities and expertise to support the semiconductor industry with prototyping activities. These industry-focused projects are invaluable in training future talent for the growing compound semiconductor industry.”

Chris Meadows, Director of CSconnected said, “PEMD is a perfect example of the many applications in which compound semiconductors are set to become ubiquitous with the increasing demand for high-performance devices, from power and energy through to communications and quantum technologies. The CSconnected cluster has a long history in collaborative R&D in compound semiconductor technologies and positioned strongly to deliver on future cutting-edge, high-volume opportunities.”