Nearly every electronic device consists of a microprocessor or transistor – from portable devices such as calculators and mobile phones to bulkier appliances like microwave ovens and refrigerators. In a world where we are powered up, plugged in, and connected digitally, the demand for technologies powered by semiconductors has risen. It will continue to rise as the use of electronic devices intensifies in our daily lives, if it has not already done so.

The past year’s supply shortage has shown how bottlenecks in the production of almost everything (from cars to computers) has affected the global economy, underscoring the importance of these tiny chips. With growing demand set to rise over the coming decade, Pierre Garnier, Managing Partner of Jolt Capital, believes that innovation in this domain is very active and he observes higher interest from the venture capital community to invest in deep tech and semiconductors. Notwithstanding the supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic, Pierre believes that mastering a higher degree of control points within the value chain in the electronics industry is vital for national interest, and semiconductors are at the core of this chain.

With the hype around semiconductors today, one may wonder if the industry is rising to prominence again. The recent progress and advancement in technology is phasing out traditional silicone semiconductors. Instead, third-generation semiconductors, specifically Gallium Nitride (GaN) and Silicon Carbide (SiC), present superior physical properties that could potentially replace first and second-generation semiconductors. They are deemed to be more effective in high-power applications – more notably electric vehicles (EVs), data centers, and renewable energy production.

These third-generation semiconductor materials have multiple properties such as a wide band gap, high breakdown electric field, high electron saturation velocity, high thermal conductivity, higher temperature, and radiation resistance. These properties offer advantages for making high-power devices.

GaN’s transistors are known for their capability to operate at high temperatures. Its faster-moving electrons make them more suited for high-frequency applications. Their major applications include Radio Frequency (RF) and Switching Mode Power Supply (SMPS).

Besides GaN, SiC is becoming a front-runner for use in power electronic devices and a growing alternative to silicon-based electronic components. Their material offers benefits such as greater power efficiency, smaller size, lighter weight and lowers the overall cost of systems. SiC advantages include high breakdown voltage, high thermal conductivity, and higher temperature resistance making them a natural choice for high-power high-temperature applications. They are commonly used in power devices such as diodes and transistors.

Despite the superior properties and application usage, the manufacturing challenges are preventing GaN and SiC production from reaching maximum cost efficiency. This has created innovation opportunities for industry players to optimize production cost and scalability.

In essence, third-generation semiconductors hold vast promises for various sectors. GaN is more suited for mid-low voltage devices and high-temperature high-frequency applications. Due to its ability to be used in higher-power devices and machines, SiC is set to replace earlier versions of semiconductors. R&D on GaN and SiC is very much focused on improving production efficiency and lowering production costs. Semiconductor manufacturers constantly look for ways to increase their yield as higher yield means higher margins, and third-generation semiconductors clearly have an advantage. It is only a matter of time before third-generation semiconductors become the industry norm.

For more information, please check out this report – “Third-generation semiconductors: the next wave?”

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