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Application of SiC and GaN in electric vehicles


SiC MOSFETs are transistors that offer high power density, improved efficiency, and low failure rates at high temperatures. These advantages of SiC MOSFETs bring numerous benefits to electric vehicles (EVs), including longer driving range, faster charging, and potentially lower cost battery electric vehicles (BEVs). Over the past five years, SiC MOSFETs have been widely used in the power electronics of EVs in vehicles from OEMs such as Tesla and Hyundai. In fact, SiC inverters accounted for 28% of the BEV market in 2023.

GaN HEMTs are a newer technology that is likely to be the next major disruptor in the EV market. GaN HEMTs offer superior efficiency performance, but still face significant challenges in adoption, such as ultimate power handling capabilities. There is considerable overlap between SiC MOSFETs and GaN HEMTs, and both will have a place in the automotive power semiconductor market.

As facilities scale up rapidly, barriers to SiC MOSFET performance, reliability, and production capacity have been addressed, and its cost has dropped significantly. Although the average price of SiC MOSFETs is still 3 times more expensive than the equivalent Si IGBT, its characteristics make it popular with manufacturers such as Tesla, Hyundai, and BYD. Other companies have also announced future adoption of SiC MOSFETs, including Stellantis, Mercedes-Benz, and the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance.

SiC MOSFETs have a smaller form factor and can also reduce the size of accompanying passive components such as inductors in traction inverters. By replacing Si IGBTs in the inverter with SiC MOSFETs, BEVs can be lighter and more efficient, and their range can be increased by about 7%, addressing consumer concerns about range. On the other hand, by using SiC MOSFETs, the same range can be obtained with a reduced battery capacity, helping to create lighter, lower-cost, and more sustainable vehicles.

As battery capacity increases, the overall energy savings achieved by using SiC MOSFETs also increase. Initially, SiC MOSFETs and larger batteries were reserved for mid- to high-end EVs with larger batteries. With new mainstream and economy vehicles such as the MG MG4, BYD Dolphin and Volvo EX30 with battery capacities exceeding 50kWh, SiC MOSFETs have penetrated the mainstream passenger car segment in Europe and China. This has been accompanied by a lead gained by the United States, with Tesla being the first major OEM to use SiC MOSFETs in its Model 3. There are reports that demand for SiC MOSFETs will grow 10-fold between 2023 and 2035, driven primarily by the adoption of higher efficiency and higher voltage platforms for use in inverters, on-board chargers and DC-DC converters.

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