The market for electronic devices based on wide-bandgap semiconductors is poised to grow by 30% or more per year, according to a technology and market report from Strategies Unlimited. The two most important semiconductors will be galium nitride (GaN), mainly for microwave applications, and silicon carbide (SiC), mainly for power supplies and motor controls. Other materials, such as aluminum nitride (AlN) are much less mature in their development.
The projected market growth strongly depends on continuing improvements in substrate quality, price, and availability; new device and package designs; and the ability of system designers to take advantage of the new technology. Early growth will be dominated by products for microwave power amplifiers, such as for communications, radar, and military uses, according to the report: “Wide-Bandgap Electronics—2008”. Growth in products for power management will take longer, while low-power products for high-temperature environments will not see a significant opportunity through the forecast period. The devices will compete against established semiconductor-based devices and vacuum tubes in segments that will have a combined value of about $1 billion in revenues by 2012.
Wide-bandgap materials offer nearly ideal properties for fast, hot, high-power electronics. They have attractive properties but have high melting points—above 2,000°C—and they have taken the semiconductor industry the longest to master. The materials benefit from much of the development in silicon electronics, but silicon-based products are much less expensive to manufacture. Therefore, wide-bandgap electronics has to compete in those niches where silicon and other solutions are inferior.