Search
Close this search box.
chiplix logo

Unbeatable IGBT!

igbt-in-new-energy-cars

Table of Contents

In recent years, compound semiconductors represented by SiC (silicon carbide) and GaN (gallium nitride) have received considerable attention due to their excellent properties such as wide bandgap, high saturation drift velocity, and high critical breakdown field. SiC and Si have competed in manufacturing power semiconductors, and have demonstrated their strength both in science and practice. Especially with the popularization and development of new energy electric vehicles, automakers have begun to shift to the 800V high-voltage platform, leading to an increasing demand for SiC. As a result, the application of SiC in automotive industry is accelerating, which poses a certain impact on silicon-based IGBTs.

However, recently there have been rumors circulating about a shortage of IGBTs. The cause of this was a news report from Taiwanese media, in which Maotech Chairman Ye Zhengxian stated that the shortage and price increase of IGBTs is not a new phenomenon and that the issue is not merely a matter of high prices, but that IGBTs are simply not available for purchase. Meanwhile, foundries are also raising their prices due to the high demand, with the Hanlei Group raising their IGBT production line prices by around 10% earlier this year, highlighting the intense competition in the market.

According to the delivery times of several major IGBT manufacturers around the world, it appears that IGBTs are indeed in short supply. Currently, IGBTs are mainly dominated by European and Japanese giants, with Infineon’s global market share of IGBTs exceeding 32%. In addition, major suppliers include Japanese companies such as Fuji Electric, ON Semiconductor, Toshiba, and STMicroelectronics. The delivery times for these major IGBT manufacturers are typically around 50 weeks on average. According to the “Q1 2023 Chip Market Report” released by Fuchang Electronics on February 17, 2023, the delivery time for ON Semiconductor’s IGBTs ranges from 39 to 62 weeks, while Infineon’s IGBT delivery time is 39 to 50 weeks, IXYS’s IGBT delivery time is 50 to 54 weeks, Microsemi’s IGBT delivery time is 42 to 52 weeks, and ST’s IGBT delivery time is 47 to 52 weeks. However, the delivery times and price trends of these manufacturers are stable, indicating a healthy market.

In the context of SiC’s rise to prominence, why is IGBT still so popular? Recent actions by Tesla have prompted us to reconsider the significance of IGBT and SiC.

Tesla reduces SiC, continues to embrace silicon

The first shot for SiC was fired by Tesla, and the growth of the SiC market in the past five years largely depended on Tesla, which was the first car manufacturer to use SiC material in electric vehicles and is now the largest buyer. However, due to cost issues, Tesla announced at the recent AI Investor Day that it would reduce the SiC content by 75% in the next generation of vehicles, which caused a stir in the industry. 75% is not a small number! Through various actions including reducing SiC, Tesla will reduce costs by $1,000 in the next generation of electric vehicles.

tesla reduces silicon carbide and embrace igbt
Source: Tesla

Tesla is currently developing a new entry-level model – Model 2 or Model Q, which will be cheaper and more compact than existing vehicles. In Tesla’s view, this smaller car with fewer features will not require as many SiC devices to provide power.

Industry analysis suggests that Tesla will adopt a low-power silicon-based IGBT + SiC MOSFET method to replace SiC in low-end models. Currently, the inverters used in Tesla’s Model S/X and Model 3/Y platforms are the same. According to SystemPlus Consulting’s teardown report, there are a total of 24 SiC modules on the main inverter of Model 3, with each module containing two SiC dies, for a total of 48 SiC MOSFETs. These 48 SiC MOSFETs replace 84 IGBTs. Tesla’s goal for the new powertrain is to use only 12 SiC MOSFETs.

Tesla’s move has two far-reaching implications: one is that this is positive news for SiC, as Tesla is expanding SiC’s potential market and making it suitable for the low-end market. The other is that Tesla’s approach may also be emulated by other original equipment manufacturers or further increase the demand for IGBTs. According to analysts at Yole Intelligence, by 2023, silicon-based IGBTs used in EV inverters will be in a favorable position in terms of capacity and cost within the industry.

Why can’t SiC MOSFETs replace IGBTs?

Although SiC has some superior characteristics, it is not suitable for all applications. SiC transistors have advantages such as higher switching speed, lower on-resistance, and higher voltage endurance, making them very suitable for high-frequency, high-voltage applications. In the 600-1,700V range, SiC power devices have a significant advantage, especially in the field of new energy vehicles. Traditional silicon-based IGBT chips have reached the physical limit of materials in high-voltage fast charging models, so new energy vehicles have begun to embrace SiC.

However, the disadvantage of SiC transistors is that their price is relatively high, and the production process of SiC is more complicated. The main reason for the high price of SiC is due to the SiC substrate, which causes the slow growth of SiC crystals. It takes about 7 days to grow a SiC crystal of 1 cm, whereas pulling out an 8-inch silicon rod of about 2 meters only takes 2-3 days. SiC also has a high hardness, which not only increases cutting time but also reduces yield. In general, cutting silicon wafers only takes a few hours, while SiC requires hundreds of hours. Therefore, the actual control of the SiC industry chain is in the hands of substrate suppliers. In addition, other production costs are higher than Si, but the proportion relative to the substrate is smaller. SiC processing and production require higher temperatures and more expensive consumables. SiC transistors also have some drawbacks, such as being easily damaged and sensitive to temperature. Considering these factors, SiC is not suitable for some low-cost, low-power application scenarios.

The manufacturing cost of IGBT is lower than that of SiC MOSFET because IGBT uses silicon-based materials with low cost and mature production technology. The price of silicon is only one-third to one-fourth of that of wide-bandgap materials. Secondly, IGBT has higher reliability than SiC MOSFET because of its relatively simple structure and lower failure rate. At the same time, IGBT has better capacitance performance and better overvoltage resistance, which is suitable for high-power, high-current applications. For example, in the charging pile field, which does not require high environmental or weight and space requirements, it is difficult to replace IGBT, which has the most cost advantage.

Therefore, SiC cannot completely replace IGBT.

Industry insiders previously said, “SiC is like a smart and highly individualistic teenager, with outstanding advantages and equally outstanding disadvantages. IGBT is more like a steady and mature young person who can bear the burden of power devices.”

Cao Yanfei, Senior Vice President of Infineon Technologies and Head of Automotive Electronics Business Unit in Greater China, also said in a recent media communication meeting, “For many applications that prioritize top performance and appearance factors, silicon-based materials are still competitive. We believe that in the automotive field, Si and SiC will coexist in the medium and long term.”

In fact, IGBT (Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistor) as a new type of power semiconductor device, is the most representative product of the third revolution of international power electronics technology, and is the core component of industrial control and automation fields. IGBT is called the “CPU” in the power electronics industry. IGBT is still the best choice in many application scenarios and is widely used in fields such as frequency converters, wind power generation, and solar power generation. The rapid development of these fields has led to a rapid increase in demand for IGBT.

IGBT in high demand

Industry insiders analyze that the current surge in demand for IGBT is mainly due to the rapid development of new energy applications such as electric vehicles and solar energy. In 2022, the demand for consumer electronics applications will decline, but the demand for emerging applications such as photovoltaics, energy storage, and new energy vehicles will continue to be strong.

Against the backdrop of “carbon peak” and “carbon neutrality,” the large-scale application of solar photovoltaics has become an inevitable trend in the world’s energy development. The photovoltaic inverter is the “heart” of the solar photovoltaic system, and the IGBT module is the core component of the photovoltaic inverter, accounting for 10% to 15% of the inverter’s cost. As the power generation efficiency of solar modules continues to improve and gradually switches to high-power modules, the proportion of IGBTs in the inverter is greatly increased.

The increase in photovoltaic installations has become an important driving force for the increase in demand for photovoltaic IGBT modules. This is also reflected in the revenue of Chinese manufacturers: Xin Jieneng achieved sales revenue of 400 million yuan in the IGBT business in 2022, a year-on-year increase of 398.23%, and it is expected that the sales of the company’s IGBT products will continue to accelerate in 2023; Chinese IGBT supplier Star Semiconductor stated in its 2022 performance forecast that IGBT modules and discrete devices are being rapidly deployed and installed in large quantities in the photovoltaic power generation and energy storage fields; and BYD Semiconductor announced in June last year that its IGBT module had been shipped in bulk to the photovoltaic field.

As for electric vehicles, it is needless to say that the number of IGBTs used in an electric vehicle is as high as hundreds, which is seven to ten times that of traditional fuel vehicles. IGBTs are mainly used in three areas in cars, namely the main inverter of motor drive, on-board chargers (OBCs) and DC/DC converters related to charging, and modules for completing auxiliary applications.

According to data from analytical institutions, the global newly added photovoltaic installed capacity reached 244GW in 2022, and the actual sales of new energy vehicles in China reached more than 6.8 million units. According to data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), there will be 125 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030.

igbt-in-new-energy-cars
The application of IGBT in new energy vehicles

Driven by multiple green energy markets, the IGBT market is rapidly expanding. The Business Research Company’s data research pointed out that the global IGBT market size will increase from 7.27 billion US dollars in 2022 to 8.42 billion US dollars in 2023, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.7%, and will increase to 15.27 billion US dollars in 2027, with a compound annual growth rate of 16.0%.

In addition to market-driven factors, a group of IGBT suppliers’ continuous development of new products is the hero that drives IGBT to be in an “invincible position.” Companies such as Infineon, ON Semiconductor, Toshiba, and Chinese participants are improving the performance and stability of IGBTs through continuous innovation and improvement, making them more suitable for various application scenarios. For example:

  • In November 2022, Infineon Technologies developed a new single IGBT power module for 1500V inverters.
  • On March 20, 2023, ON Semiconductor released a series of new ultra-efficient 1200V VII (FS7) IGBTs, which have smaller conduction and switching losses.
  • Toshiba Electronics Europe GmbH has announced a new 650V-rated discrete IGBT for PFC circuits in air conditioners, household appliances, industrial equipment power supplies, and other applications, with at least 40% improvement in turn-off losses compared to the previous generation devices. 
  • In September 2022, Renesas Electronics Corporation developed a new Si-IGBT AE5 for the next generation of electric vehicle (EV) inverters. The silicon-based AE5 process used for IGBTs can reduce power losses by 10% compared to the company’s current generation AE4 product. Renesas Electronics will begin mass-producing the AE5 generation IGBTs on its 200mm and 300mm wafer production lines at its plant in Naka, Japan in the first half of 2023.

Multiple IGBT projects launched in China and abroad

China is the largest market for IGBT demand, and in the medium to long term, the semiconductor market demand will continue to show a fast-growing momentum. To alleviate the shortage of IGBT, we see that many IGBT suppliers are increasing their production efforts to increase the supply.

In April 2022, Denso and United Semiconductor Japan Corporation (USJC) announced that the two companies will collaborate to produce power semiconductors at USJC’s 300mm wafer fab. USJC’s wafer fab will install an IGBT production line, making it the first factory in Japan to produce IGBTs on 300mm wafers. Denso will contribute its system-oriented IGBT devices and process technology, while USJC will provide its 300mm wafer manufacturing capability, and production is planned to begin in the first half of 2023.

In China, on February 18th, the Fuling District of Chongqing held a ceremony for the commencement of key projects in the first quarter of 2023. Among them, the projects that began construction include the Daxin Electronics 6-inch IGBT power semiconductor production line project, with a total investment of 2 billion yuan, building an annual production line of 1.2 million 6-inch power semiconductor characteristic process wafers, with products covering new energy vehicles, smart grids, optical energy storage, wind power generation, industrial applications, white goods and other fields.

On February 22nd, Jiangsu Jiejie Microelectronics Co., Ltd. announced that it plans to increase investment in the construction project of the “Power Semiconductor 6-inch Wafer and Device Packaging and Testing Production Line” by its wholly-owned subsidiary Jiejie Semiconductor Co., Ltd., from the initial 510 million yuan to 810 million yuan, with equipment investment of 523 million yuan.

Subsequently, as global manufacturers gradually release capacity, and with supply and demand adjustments, IGBT lead times will gradually return to normal levels, and shortages will ease.

Capital has also been active in the IGBT arena, with many semiconductor companies in the IGBT field receiving financing in the past six months:

On December 15th, 2022, Zhejiang Jingneng Microelectronics Co., Ltd., a subsidiary of Geely Technology Group, announced the completion of its Pre-A round of financing. On March 16th, Geely Technology Group released information that its first vehicle-grade IGBT product independently designed and developed by Zhejiang Jingneng Microelectronics has successfully gone into production, using seventh-generation micro-groove gate and field cut-off technology, with comprehensive performance indicators reaching the industry-leading level.

In February 2023, Mipurson Semiconductor completed its A+ round of financing, focusing on high-power semiconductor component MOSFET/IGBT field; on March 20th, National Silicon Technology Investment participated in the investment of Shanghai Ruiqu Microelectronics Technology Co., Ltd., a Chinese IGBT field start-up, with an investment amount of 15 million yuan, accounting for 4.87%, focusing on the development of seventh-generation IGBT chips and IPM intelligent modules; on March 25th, Anjian Semiconductor received 180 million yuan in Series B financing, with the raised funds mainly used for the development of high and low voltage MOS and IGBT full-series products, third-generation semiconductor SiC device development, and IGBT module packaging and testing factory construction

Conclusion

IGBT, SiC, and even GaN are highly important semiconductor devices in today’s market, finding broad applications in fields such as power electronics and others. While IGBT has some limitations, ongoing technological developments and innovations are enabling SiC and IGBT to complement and cooperate with each other in a competitive environment. Looking ahead, IGBT is poised to continue playing a significant role in the advancement of electronics and power technology.

Share:
More Posts
Request For Quote

Looking for specialized electronic components to power your innovation? Our team is here to assist you. 

en_US
small_c_popup

Request quote for electronic components

Let's have a chat