Silicon carbide (SiC) is becoming a more prominent alternative substrate material to silicon in the microchip industry bolstering its market growth in semiconductors amid the competitive landscape. Over the last 30 years, SiC has been used in a wide variety of applications including radiation-resistance, high-temperature operating capacity, high-voltage devices, power manipulation, and as a substrate for optoelectronics. This material has benefitted from enormous US Department of Defense funding to universities such as North Carolina State University in Raleigh due to its use in numerous strategic military electronic devices, which has advanced this material for commercial applications as well. Companies such as Cree, a leader in SiC substrates and devices based in Durham, NC, have capitalized on that aspect and been able to essentially subsidize their R&D as a result.
While the penetration growth rate has increased steadily over the last decade in electronics operating at high temperatures (several hundred degrees F), the growth rate for power semiconductors has been much higher, since SiC offers superior efficiency over silicon for high voltages devices (>1kV) due to its unique robust electrical properties.
According to the report “Silicon Carbide (SiC) Semiconductor Materials and Devices (Discretes & Chips) Market, Global Forecasts and Analysis (2012-2022)” by Markets and Markets, the SiC semiconductor devices market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 37.67 percent from 2012 to 2022. The SiC market’s competitive landscape included only a few major players in the year 2000, but it expanded to over 40 key players focused on materials and devices over the next 12 years until present.
Currently, the overall SiC power semiconductors market accounts for less than 1 percent of the total power semiconductors market, but this is expected to increase dramatically, as more power semiconductors and electronics companies shift into this new sector an absorb significant market share. The global SiC semiconductor devices’ market revenue is estimated to be approximately $218 million in 2012 and is forecasted to reach $5.34 billion by end of 2022.
Historically, the SiC optoelectronics (ie. LED) market revenue was higher than that of power semiconductors; however, power semiconductors overtook the bulk share of revenue in 2011. Nonetheless, the SiC opto-semiconductors market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 25.46 percent and hit $600 million by 2022. The primary reason for the relatively lower CAGR of SiC opto-semiconductors is the increased transition toward silicon and sapphire substrates over SiC in order to make LEDs more cost-competitive with conventional lighting.
Many companies are exploring ways of growing gallium nitride layers for LED lighting applications, high-power and high-voltage devices on silicon and sapphire instead of SiC, even though these substrates are more difficult to implement with respect to defects and crystal properties. Advanced growth techniques and slightly lower performance, in some cases, are worth the risk of utilizing these alternative substrates, which are significantly less expensive than SiC.
The demand for lower cost microchips associated with energy-efficient power usage and control as well as LED lighting is moderating the growth of SiC in certain applications, but the prospects remain bright where it has a solid competitive advantage over alternative materials.
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