SiC in China: ‘Poster child of the decoupling era’

How long before China catches up with Western silicon carbide suppliers in wafer production and device manufacturing? – An article written by Junko Yoshida for Ojo & Yoshida Report.

What’s at stake?

Fueled by booming electric-vehicle demand and the long-term goal of semiconductor self-sufficiency, China is committed to developing power electronics based on silicon carbide (SiC). What is China’s plan for leapfrogging Western SiC suppliers?

Here are the questions: Who are China’s SiC players? How much money is China pouring into nascent technology and production facilities? Are Chinese vendors devising different business strategies to conquer the SiC market? Each of these riddles keep global power-electronics executives awake at night.

“SiC [in China] is the poster child of the decoupling era,” said Ezgi Dogmus, team lead analyst for compound semiconductors at Yole Intelligence.

In these days of political and economic tension between the West and China, technology develops along separate paths. Gone are the days when, say, Western SiC vendors might have created joint ventures in China, resulting in unified, global SiC development and production. What we see in this decoupled era is the parallel development of two separate SiC technology, manufacturing and supply chain infrastructures.

“We will see how the competitive landscape shapes up,” Simon Keeton, executive vice president and general manager for the power-solutions group at Onsemi, noted in a recent interview with the Ojo-Yoshida Report. “To date, I haven’t seen Chinese competition when it comes to silicon carbide devices.”

To power EVs, China still procures its SiC devices from manufacturers in the United States, Europe and Japan. These include Onsemi, Infineon, STMicroelectronics, Wolfspeed and Rohm. It’s anyone’s guess how soon China might be able to flip the supply flow.

Currently, many SiC players in the West downplay China’s role in the global market, largely because investments in China are concentrated on SiC wafers, not on device-level development such as SiC MOSFETs. “Those device players building SiC capacity and capability in China are not yet capable of competing with E.U. and U.S. players,” said Yole’s Dogmus.

But the picture is beginning to change. During last month’s Electronica trade show in Munich, Jochen Hanebeck, CEO of Infineon Technologies, noted, “I see China’s intent to leapfrog silicon power semiconductors [with] wide-bandgap semiconductors – in particular with silicon carbide.”

Given growing Chinese demand, Hanebeck warned against underestimating China. “I wouldn’t be surprised if some [Chinese chipmakers] are soon able to provide” innovations in SiC. “Statistically [speaking], it’s just very likely.”Full article

Headline image: 6-inch N-type SiC substrates by SICC in China (Image: SICC)