We’ve come a long way since the first Ford Model T rolled off the Detroit assembly lines in 1908. Automotive technology has continued to change and advance, creating the cars we know and love today. More recent advances in this technology have led to an increased demand for silicon carbide, or SiC, chips. What are SiC chips and how will the automotive industry benefit from the new technology that uses it?
What Are SiCs?
Silicon carbide is a high-end semiconductor, also known as carborundum. It occurs naturally in the world, found in the mineral moissanite, but it’s difficult to find. Thankfully, it’s easy to mass produce by mixing silica sand and carbon. It’s been used for centuries because of its abrasive qualities, but modern researchers have discovered newer uses for it.
If your car has performance brakes, you may already be familiar with SiC. High-performance ceramic brake discs contain silicon carbide to reinforce the carbon fiber, reducing friction and extending the lifespan of the brake pads. You may also find it in your oil — as an additive, SiC reduces friction inside the engine.
Silicone Carbide in Automotive Technology
Increased demand in the automotive industry to move toward a zero-emissions model, is driving technology innovations. Electric cars are one way to achieve this goal, but current technology isn’t affordable enough to allow the concept to become more mainstream. These vehicles require electronic components that can operate at high temperatures without compromising efficiency. SiC chips can do that, and more.
In electronics, a band gap refers to the difference in energy between a valance band and a conduction band. It’s an area where no electronics can exist. Traditional silicon electronic components have a band gap of 1.14 eV, while silicon carbide has a band gap two or three times that, depending on the formulation. This material can help increase the battery life in electric vehicles while preventing the heat-death that many silicon components experience.
The demand for these materials doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere anytime soon, which is a boon for companies that produce SiC chips. SiC can be challenging to work with, breaking down during lapping and creating sharp shards that can scratch or damage a product’s surface. This is good news for companies that are already part of the SiC industry.
Looking to the Future
Electric and hybrid-electric vehicles are the primary sources for all this SiC chip demand, but those aren’t the only potential applications for these next-generation semiconductors. SiC chips are also necessary to support the charging infrastructure that will keep these electric cars on the road, as well as creating power supplies for other devices.
High-speed rail projects will also likely depend on SiC chips instead of traditional silicon alternatives. The friction-generated heat at those high speeds would probably be too much for standard silicon. The overall implementation rate will vary depending on where the SiC chips are needed. A new high-speed rail project might use SiC from the get-go, while other, more established projects might be slower to adopt this new technology.
A Changing Automotive Landscape
Silicon carbide has been around for a long time, but it’s only recently that we’ve started exploring its potential as a semiconductor in electronics. As more electric and hybrid-electric vehicles roll off the assembly lines, the demand for SiC chips will continue to grow. While they may not replace every silicon chip application, especially in low-heat scenarios where SiC’s thermal resistance isn’t necessary, these chips will change and shape the automotive industry for years to come.