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Thanks to the advances made possible by silicon, electronic systems now pervade almost every part of life. The advanced control that electronic design enables is now helping to transform the way products are designed. Take the automotive sector as an example, which is beginning the move from petrol and diesel engines to electric traction – taking advantage of novel power-conversion architectures and semiconductors to maximise battery capacity and motor efficiency.
For the UK, which manufactures 2.5million engines every year, such a transition provides a huge opportunity. Electric traction requires the ability to convert power at high efficiency and in as small a space as possible. But today’s silicon power converter technology is reaching the limits of its capabilities.
Low switching speeds translate into heat losses that force manufacturers to use bulky heatsinks. Compound semiconductor materials such as gallium nitride (GaN) and silicon carbide (SiC) let manufacturers attack the problem at multiple levels. Not only can they switch faster – delivering greater efficiency and cooler operation – they are far better at handling heat. This makes it possible to integrate many power devices in one compact package, cutting size and weight.
Because of their ability to support high-speed switching, compound semiconductors already support key markets such as optical and RF communications, with devices used in mobile handsets, basestations and high-speed telecom switches. And the UK already has a strong position, with more than 100 companies operating across the compound-semiconductor supply chain.
A number of UK companies and operations have achieved leadership positions at multiple levels of the supply chain. They include start-ups, SMEs and multinationals. IQE, based in South Wales, is the leading manufacturer of wafers for compound semiconductors. CST Global operates one of the very few foundries set up to handle the complexity of outsourced production using these novel materials. Plessey Semiconductors is integrating GaN on low-cost, high-volume silicon wafers to create LED lighting and power components. With manufacturing bases in the UK, Oclaro and Kaiam have pioneered the use of semiconductor manufacturing to build highly integrated photonics devices for telecom and datacom markets.
Today, the market for compound semiconductors is worth $66billion, with a UK share of 9%, according to analysts, and seeing double-digit percentage growth. Thanks to the need for advanced power, photonics and RF devices, the global market for compound semiconductors is forecast to grow rapidly to around $140bn by 2023. Future growth will be enhanced by the way in which compound semiconductors are expected to expand into a host of new markets.
The Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult … will also invest in dedicated laboratories to support technology advances in hybridised packaging, and facilities to help companies develop and test new systems using compound semiconductors in power electronics, RF and photonics.
Dr Andy Sellars
Not only will devices based on compound semiconductors find their way into the infrastructure for 5G cellular networks, they will also support… >Continue on the original page.