Europe Seeks Power Edge With Semiconductor-Focused Initiative

Partners in a new European research project recently released details of the multinational program called LAST POWER (Large Area silicon carbide Substrates and heTeroepitaxial GaN for POWER device applications). The objective of this 42-month European Nanoelectronics Initiative Advisory Council (ENIAC) project is to provide Europe with strategic independence in the field of wide-bandgap (WBG) semiconductors.

This semiconductor arena is strategically important because it involves the development of highly energy-efficient systems for all applications, from telecommunications to automotive, from consumer electronics to electrical household appliances, and from industrial applications to home automation.

The consortium plans to develop European technology for the complete production chain of semiconductor devices built with SiC (silicon carbide) and heteroepitaxial GaN (gallium nitride on silicon wafers). Comparatively, these two semiconductor materials offer higher speed, current capability, breakdown voltage, and thermal capability versus many conventional silicon technologies.

“The power semiconductor market, which represents approximately 30% of the overall semiconductor market, is set to change significantly in response to the ever-increasing demand for more energy-efficient devices,” says project coordinator Salvatore Coffa, group vice president and R&D general manager, Industrial and Multisegment Sector, STMicroelectronics. “This key project, which targets secure strategic independence in the emerging field of SiC and GaN technologies, will place Europe at the forefront of energy-efficient devices.”

More specifically, the project’s mission is to develop a cost-effective and reliable integration of advanced SiC and GaN semiconductors in the European power microelectronics industry. This will be achieved via five objectives:
• Growth of large-area (150mm) SiC and high-quality heteroepitaxial GaN on 150mm Si wafers, beyond the current worldwide state-of-the-art for substrates, epitaxy, and surface preparation.
• Development of new dedicated equipment for material growth, characterization, and processing.
• Processing of reliable and efficient SiC and GaN devices on 150mm wafers.
• Demonstration of high-performance devices with properties that cannot be obtained on silicon, including a 1200V/100A SiC MOSFET, SiC JFET capable of operating up to 250°C, and GaN HEMT devices for power switching.
• Development of advanced packages for high-temperatures devices and improvement of device reliability.

ENIAC, anchored by a well-established track record when it comes to nurturing new technologies, has a very clear philosophy: It believes that each new generation of technology in the electronics sector requires a steep increase in investments for research as well as for new design and production facilities.

This approach has certainly worked well for ENIAC’s commitment to nanotechnology. I see no reason why it shouldn’t prove equally successful when applied to the LAST POWER program.

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