4 ways silicon carbide is improving tech

SiC could lead to better electronic sensors. (Pixabay)

Silicon carbide (SiC) is a semiconductor containing both silicon and carbon. People have mass-produced SiC powder since the late 1800s to use as an abrasive. But, progress since then has led to SiC playing a larger role in improving electronics technology. 

For example, SiC can make medical devices more perceptive. A report from Market Research Future forecasts a 23% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for medical wearables from the period from 2015 to 2023. One of the driving factors behind that growth is how this kind of technology aids medical professionals with patient management. They can continue to assess people even once those individuals get sent home from health care facilities.

There's seemingly no limit to the factors that a medical wearable might track, and that's due in part to SiC. One example of using SiC in medical electronics involved putting it inside an electronic "skin." A laser irradiation process put carbon grooves onto the surface of a silicon film, and SiC helped create highly sensitive electronic arrays to measure the amount of strain exerted on part of the skin. Researchers demonstrated how their SiC-based sensor could detect how the skin on the neck moves when a person drinks. The sensor arrays also have tactile sensing abilities and can provide wireless monitoring.

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SiC for aircraft power systems

The aviation sector continually looks for ways to make air travel more efficient and eco-friendly. One of the benefits of SiC used in aviation is that it works well for designing lightweight components. More specifically, SiC is a solution for reducing the size and weight of aircraft power switching technology. It offers superior results compared to traditional silicon-based materials. 

Some of the most appropriate applications for SiC are those associated with high levels of temperature, power and voltage. Moreover, SiC continues to perform at temperatures that are too hot for traditional silicon. These factors and others mean SiC will likely be a viable option as electronics professionals assess how to improve power switching systems for the aviation industry.

SiC can also help sensors perform in extreme conditions. Silicon has a decades-long history of being the material of choice for the semiconductors used for sensors. However, as mentioned, extreme heat doesn't suit silicon. It doesn't offer the necessary reliability in environments that near 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Researchers at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, got around that temperature restriction by working with SiC instead of silicon. They believe their achievements could lead to better electronic sensors for purposes like deep-oil and coal mining or combustion engines. Then, the sensors could operate safely and as expected when the mercury rises.

SiC and electric vehicles

A report from Strategy Analytics looked at power electronics components for high-efficiency and electric vehicles made from SiC and gallium nitride (GaN). The results concluded that together, semiconductors made from those two materials would account for almost 20% of the semiconductors made for high-efficiency and electric vehicles' power electronics by 2026.

Moreover, the report clarified that SiC has a more mature marketplace presence compared to GaN. People who specialize in electric cars are already substituting SiC for some components formerly made from silicon. Those parts include the DC-to-DC converter — which converts direct-current electricity from one voltage level to another — as well as the main inverter and the onboard charger. 

One project based in the European Union seeks to develop a modular drivetrain system for electric vehicles. It optimizes the battery power while providing a 30% increase in torque and cutting down on required charging times.

The innovation reportedly has a silicon carbide inverter, along with numerous other high-tech parts. The research team will present some of its early test results during an international gathering in Italy occurring in September 2019.

 The U.S. Army is also interested in ground vehicles with silicon carbide electronics. It hopes the results will provide twice the power in less than 50% of the volume. A further source about the contracted project mentions it will be a starter generator controller that operates generators through both sensored and sensorless control via a replaceable unit weighing less than 50 pounds.

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