Silicon Carbide Promises Improved Efficiency of Industrial Processes

The project titled, “Modular Medium-frequency Process Power Supply with Silicon Carbide Power Semiconductor Switches” (MMPSiC) targets higher efficiency of power supplies for industrial processes to reduce energy consumption. Researchers at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) from its the Light Technology Institute (LTI),  cooperated with their industry partners IXYS Semiconductor and TRUMPF Hüttinger to study the use of high-power silicon carbide semiconductor switches. The German Federal Ministry of Research funds  EUR 800,000 of the EUR 1.3 million, three-year project.

So called floating zone systems effectively move the melting zone of a material to produce a purer crystallization of materials such as monocrystalline silicon used in solar cells.  The researchers speculate that if the power supplies of such floating zone systems, which have a maximum electrical efficiency of about 65%, are replaced with silicon carbide-based power supplies, the efficiency would increase to over 80%. For example, a single large-scale floating zone reactor with twenty 50 kW process power supplies and an annual operating time of 4800 hours could reduce electrical energy consumption by more than 200,000 kWh with a conversion to SiC-based power supplies, according to Germany’s Federal Environmental Agency.

The wider bandgap and the higher temperature operation allowed with SiC-based power supplies could translate to improved efficiency in a more compact device. 

“Power supply of energy-intensive industrial applications, such as a floating zone process, requires switching at high frequencies,” stated project manager Dr. Rainer Kling, LTI. “Silicon carbide has not yet been tested at these high frequencies. Here, we are entering new territory.”