Chinese attempt to 'leapfrog' in SiC/GaN not unchallenged

Misha Lu, DIGITIMES Asia, Taipei 0


At the 2023 Optics Valley of China JFS Forum and Compound Semiconductor Industry Development Conference, Wu Lin, the President of China Advanced Semiconductor Industry Innovation Alliance, shared her observations on the current status of China's compound semiconductor development - a technology long deemed by the Chinese government as the country's chance to "leapfrog".

China regards silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN) as so-called "third-generation semiconductors," a terminology underscoring China's hope that SiC/GaN development can mend the technology gap with leading semiconductor countries that dominate silicon-based and gallium arsenide(GaAs)/Indium phosphide (InP) -based semiconductors, referred by Chinese chip industry as "first-generation" and "second-generation" semiconductors, respectively.

In 2022, China's "third-generation semiconductor" industry output is about CNY689.2 billion, among which LED lighting application alone accounts for CNY675 billion. Power semiconductor and RF applications together account for the remaining CNY14.1 billion, as Chinese media Ijiwei reported.

According to Wu, the challenging geopolitical environment has not only added to the risk of having core material and equipment coming under sanctions, it also leads to more costly equipment and longer lead times, reported Ijiwei.

Wu also mentioned a multitude of other challenges faced by China's SiC/GaN industry, including low yield, weak patent portfolio, and a low proportion of homegrown equipment. Notably, she mentioned the over-diversified investment, repeated investment in low-entry llevel sectors, and the high valuations received by some companies, leading to a bubble.

Nevertheless, as SiC and GaN semiconductors come in the form of discrete units, Wu noted that it would require lower investment compared to integrated circuits, as the requirements on design complexity and equipment precision are lower. She also suggests the industry to find a point for breakthrough in Belt and Road and BRICS countries.