Silicon Carbide at GE: The Next Revolution in Power

Silicon Carbide power devices will set new standards in power savings for virtually everything that converts or uses electricity, from wind turbines and solar installations, to industrial data centers, hybrid cars and medical imaging systems.

What is Silicon Carbide, and how does it work?

In 1986, GE ushered in a new era in electricity consumption with the invention of Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistor (IGBT). A seminal development at GE Global Research, this power switching device would become the gateway for managing the flow of current for virtually everything that runs on electricity. Today, a team of GE scientists are on the cusp of a new revolution in power management with a breakthrough material, silicon carbide.

For IGBTs and predecessor switching devices, silicon (Si) has been the workhorse material.  But recent advances in silicon carbide are promising a better material that will set new standards of efficiency and performance.

SiC revolution infographic

Power devices and electronics are critical components that regulate how power is delivered and used. For power generation sources like wind and solar energy, they convert energy into usable forms for homes and businesses. In hybrid vehicles, they manage the electricity running through electric motors that affects driving range. And for data centers, they control how well power is used by the large scale computer systems that manage mass volumes of data.

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Silicon carbide (SiC) vs Silicon (Si)

SiC based power electronic devices have significant advantages over silicon (Si) in capabilities. They operate at much higher frequencies and temperatures and convert electric power at higher efficiency or lower losses. Additionally, SiC-based devices manage the same level of power as Si devices at half the size, which will enable dramatic increases in power density and reliability.

For more than two decades, GE has been a leader in silicon carbide technologies. We’ve demonstrated the world’s best performance in power devices, advanced packaging and power electronic applications with this technology. GE already has begun commercializing new SiC-enabled products and is pushing new developments in the lab to allow for more widespread commercial adoption of other SiC device applications. To get there, production costs need to go down while reliability needs to go up. To accelerate needed advancements, GE has become a lead industry partner in New York’s State’s Power Electronics Manufacturing Consortium.

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The World’s Most Advanced Silicon Carbide Power Chip Fabrication Line  

GE is partnering with the SUNY College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering in Albany, part of SUNY Polytechnic, to build the world’s most advanced fabrication line for manufacturing silicon carbide power devices.  The new Albany SiC fab will use GE’s proprietary technology to develop and produce the best in class devices that will revolutionize the power electronics industry.  GE is contributing in excess of $100mm in IP and value to the consortium. To scale up the technology and reduce fabrication costs, manufacturing must move from the current industry standard of 4” wafer production line to 6” wafers. The Albany Fab will be set up for 6” wafer production.

The second phase of this partnership was announced in August 2015: A state-of-the-art facility in Utica where the modules and power blocks that house Silicon Carbide chips will be produced.

New York's "Silicon Carbide Corridor" grows with the establishment of a packaging facility in Utica.
New York’s “Silicon Carbide Valley” grows with the establishment of a packaging facility in Utica.