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Silicon carbide devices could cost the same as silicon

31 October, 2013

A UK start-up company is developing a silicon carbide (SiC) technology for power semiconductor devices that could lead to devices offering SiC performance at the cost of silicon. Coventry-based Anvil Semiconductors has secured £1m of funding to develop and commercialise its low-cost SiC technology.

The high efficiencies and high operating temperatures of SiC-based devices, compared to those based on conventional silicon, make them potentially attractive in applications such as variable speed drive power stages. But the high costs of producing SiC devices so far has limited their adoption, particularly in consumer applications. Today, they are used mainly in niche applications where the benefits justify the high costs.

Anvil Semiconductors was established in August 2010 as a spin-out from the University of Warwick to exploit patented developments in SiC power semiconductor technology.

The company, led by one of its founders, Dr Peter Ward, has developed a “unique” technology for producing epitaxial three-step cubic SiC (3C-SiC) layers on silicon substrates. The process promises a step reduction in the cost of manufacturing power switches in this material, and could open up high-volume SiC device markets. Anvil’s aim is to produce SiC materials and devices at costs close to those of conventional silicon.

The technology involves growing a thin layer of 3C-SiC on Si seed wafers to build active power devices. In addition to an expertise in crystal growth, Anvil has IP (intellectual property) that could resolve the problem of the stresses that occur when growing SiC on Si, which has held back the technology to date. The IP has been proven on 100mm Si wafers and should allow larger wafer diameters to be used without modification.

Anvil has now secured a £1m investment from several investors to allow it to accelerate the development and commercialisation of its technology. The funding round was led by the part-EU funded Low Carbon Innovation Fund (LCIF). “Anvil has invented a highly disruptive technology applicable to a large and growing market,” says Noel Forrest, manager of Turquoise International, which oversees the LCIF fund.

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