Why Is the Power Device Market So Hot Right Now?

Dermott Lynch

Jan 24, 2024 / 4 min read

Growing adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) and renewable energy sources is putting the spotlight on power semiconductor devices. These power devices have always been essential in determining the efficiency of a variety of systems, from small household electronics to equipment used in outer space. But as calls to reduce carbon emissions get louder, the market for semiconductor power devices continues to flourish—from US$41.81 billion this year to US$49.23 billion by 2028, according to Mordor Intelligence

The explosion in mobile applications along with growth in EVs, renewable energy, and cloud computing markets are driving demands for more complex and efficient SoCs and systems. This in turn drives a demand for increased efficiency and power density in power devices. New semiconductor materials like silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN) are being adopted to address the challenge, providing more efficient devices with higher power density, but with increased design complexity. Read on to learn more about what’s needed to develop power semiconductors that efficiently convert and control electrical power. 

what are power semiconductor devices

New Semiconductor Materials Improve Power Efficiency in Small Form Factors

Power semiconductor switches and control mechanisms transfer power from one form to another, supplying regulated and controlled power to an end system. Traditionally, power devices have been developed with metal oxide semiconductor (MOS) technology. For example, power MOSFETs (or MOS field-effect transistors) control high current or power in circuits and are commonly found, as discrete components, in switching power supplies and motor controllers. Power management ICs (PMICs), which are either embedded into standard silicon chips or used as standalone devices, perform functions including DC-to-DC conversion, battery charging, and voltage scaling. PMICs are a MOS-based market.

However, SiC and GaN are now being adopted due to their lower resistivity, as well as ability to operate at higher temperatures and use higher switching frequencies. Both materials provide higher efficiency and power density. SiC is gaining interest for EVs and plug-in hybrid EVs and is being explored for larger transport systems, such as trains, trucks, planes, and boats. By the end of the decade, SiC is anticipated to be the leading material in power devices. Designers of laptop chargers are moving from MOS to GaN because the power supply can be smaller and more efficient with higher reliability.

To optimize power, the most critical aspect for efficiency is the ON resistance. Resistance causes heat, representing power loss. When the transistor is on, what is the resistance from the input to the output? Compared to MOS, SiC and GaN both have lower resistance, making them attractive for driving greater efficiency in systems. The table below displays the resistance of different device components. 

power semiconductors

The drive for more efficient devices, whether in MOS, SiC, or GaN, requires larger designs to reduce the ON resistance. This in turn creates a design challenge of ensuring the device turns on uniformly. If a section of the device takes longer to turn on, the total current flows through the section that is turned on, causing higher than expected current density and impacting the reliability. The image below shows current density in the metal-3 layer of a CMOS device, with the highest current density areas highlighted.

cmos device power semiconductor

Due to the complex routing of power devices, a number of specialized tools has emerged on the scene to accurately analyze efficiency and reliability.  However, as design size grows, many of these tools lack the capacity required. Additionally, to provide a complete analysis, it is important to include the impact of the package.   

Clearly, with unrelenting competitive pressures and aggressive time-to-market targets at play, there needs to be a more efficient way to create the reliable, long-lasting power devices that so many applications require. 

Complete Solution for Optimizing Semiconductor Power Devices

A solution that automates the process to optimize power devices would go a long way in shortening turnaround times while delivering on quality targets. Synopsys Power Device WorkBench is one such solution. Designed to optimize power transistors, Power Device WorkBench enhances efficiency and reliability by carefully analyzing and simulating the resistance and current flow within complex metal interconnects. Engineers can optimize their designs for parameters including area, reliability, timing, and temperature. Featuring a high-throughput simulation engine, the solution can automatically correct electromigration violations and identify where to enhance a design’s layout to improve efficiency and timing. 

It's no wonder why the power electronics market is so hot right now. Power devices are simply essential in so many areas. The array of battery-powered devices we use daily are key drivers to their growth, as are booming trends in vehicle electrification and renewable energy. However, the devices themselves continue to become more complex as engineers strive to pack more functionality into single chips while meeting demands for efficient performance and small sizes. A complete power optimization solution such as Power Device WorkBench addresses these challenges, as well as those presented by new materials that help make these devices even more efficient.

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