Power microelectronics represents around the 30% of the semiconductors industry. It has been characterized by a stable growing market with a broad portfolio, often customized, of devices with low revenue but a high strategic importance. In fact, power devices are present in many systems (of high revenue) for applications whenever an electric power is needed: from telecommunication to automotive, from consumer electronics to electrical household appliances, from industrial applications to home automation (domotic). Many of the applications require quite reliable components (for safety in automotive, for security in industrial, for longevity in consumers) and low cost.
For this reason this microelectronics field has been always particularly conservative. Devices have been designed and improved considering the cost vs. performance trade-off and consequently the power density and the device conversion efficiency have been the main targets, while the main innovative feature was on integration of more functions, at least in the same package.
To date, two facts are going to change the scenario.
First of all the growing use of electronics at home and offices (appliances, computers, peripherals, televisions, wireless) and in industry (servers, communications, computers, peripherals, electric engines) has reversed the illumination/electronics ratio and the most of energy is now used for electronics. Second, the total consumption and unit cost of energy has been increased a lot with respect to the average income per person in EU. Furthermore, the need to reduce the environmental impact has become a must, extending the previous considerations to transport and mobility (electrical vehicles), too. As a consequence, power saving and then the conversion efficiency of electronic devices will be more and more important and the energetic class will be the product reference aspect in the market (including semiconductor devices) while energetic restrictions in the market legal rules became more and more severe.
For these reasons it is tremendously timely to develop industrial research activities on power efficient microelectronics technologies and devices, considering new materials and advanced technologies even if not strictly cost linked.
Nowadays, referring primarily to medium and high voltage devices, the best technologies candidate for high efficiency power conversion are the ones based on Wide Bandgap Material, such as Silicon Carbide (SiC) and Gallium Nitride (GaN). These technologies benefit of higher speed, current capability, breakdown voltage and thermal capability respect to the silicon-based ones.