[FOCUS] SK siltron leads establishment of domestic ecosystem in SiC power semiconductor production

By Lim Chang-won Posted : June 29, 2022, 10:05 Updated : June 29, 2022, 10:05

[Courtesy of SK siltron]

SEOUL -- South Korean companies have pulled together to build a solid domestic ecosystem in the production of silicon and carbide (SiC) power semiconductors, which are emerging as a key component of electric vehicles, led by SK siltron, a wafer company that has pushed for the expansion of its global market share.

Because of durability and stability, SiC power semiconductors are rapidly replacing silicon (Si) power semiconductors. SiC power semiconductors are used as a device that controls the direction of current and power conversion in electric vehicles, electronics, and 5G communication networks. 

While demand for SiC-based power semiconductors is soaring, their supply is limited due to oligopoly by a small number of companies in Germany, the United States, and Japan. SK siltron, a unit of SK Group, has launched "SiChallenge," a support program for partners to build a domestic ecosystem in the production of SiC power semiconductors.

SK siltron, which offers polished wafers, solar substrates, and crystal ingots to electronics manufacturers, organized a SiC wafer technology forum with 10 suppliers on June 28 to share information and discuss a concerted goal of enhancing their competitiveness through cooperation.

In the SiC power semiconductor market, SK siltron aims to become a top player with a market share exceeding 25 percent by 2025. "We will contribute to strengthening the supply chain by laying the foundation for the full-fledged growth of a next-generation power semiconductor ecosystem in South Korea," SK siltron CEO Jang Yong-ho said in a statement. 

In an effort to establish a mass-production system of SiC power semiconductors, SK siltron acquired DuPont's SiC wafer business for $450 million in 2019 and established a U.S. subsidiary named SK siltron CSS in Michigan. The U.S. subsidiary would expand the production of SiC wafers for electric vehicle power system components, including power converters, chargers and inverters.

SK siltron will process ingots produced in a new U.S. factory into SiC wafers at its domestic plant. For now, the company focuses on the production of 6-inch SiC wafers, but its goal is to preoccupy next-generation products such as 8-inch SiC wafers.

In April 2022, SK Inc., an investment-oriented holding company of SK Group, decided to acquire Yes Powertechnix with MOSFET technology for high-speed switching that regulates the amount of current. SiC MOSFET has high efficiency and fast switching speed and can be designed with small inductors and capacitors with the advantage of volume reduction. 

Through the acquisition of Yes Powertechnix, SK siltron will be able to establish a value chain ranging from wafer production to SiC power semiconductor design and manufacturing. The company would expand its line to high-value-added products such as SiC-based gallium nitride (GaN) semiconductors. 

GaN is a strategic material that has been used for mobile communication equipment and high-tech weapons such as radars.  Due to high power density and voltage breakdown limits, GaN is emerging as a promising candidate for 5G cellular base station applications

As a shortage in a disrupted global supply chain highlighted the strategic importance of automotive semiconductors, the Seoul government has pushed for research into semiconductors using new materials such as GaN.

In September 2021, DB Hitek, a foundry company in South Korea, embarked on research into SiC and GaN semiconductors. DB Hitek, which operates an eight-inch wafer-based foundry facility, has been cautious over massive investments to expand facilities due to a financial burden.

A semiconductor fab or known as a foundry operates for the purpose of fabricating the designs of other companies, such as fabless semiconductor companies. A top player in the global foundry market is Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC). 
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