ST addresses twofold imperatives – i.e. making technology itself more sustainable, and using technology to become more sustainable. ST is one of the largest orchestrators of technology among the semiconductor players in the world. ST understands the vast promise that the technology can make, and also the need to eliminate the hazards of its wide-scale use. ST knows fully well that technology plays pivotal role in making the world more sustainable. Jean-Louis CHAMPSEIX, Group VP, Head of Corporate Sustainability, STMicroelectronics, in a chat with ELE Times, talks about ‘how Semiconductors contribute to Green and Low Carbon’. Excerpts.
Jean-Louis CHAMPSEIX, Group VP, Head of Corporate Sustainability, STMicroelectronics
ELE Times: How does IC technology like 5G, edge computing, power devices and others enable green, low carbon economy and society? Please elaborate on ST’s this strategy on green and low carbon strategy?
Jean-Louis CHAMPSEIX: Sustainability has been a guiding principle in ST since the early 1990s. Today, it is integrated into every part of our business. We bring innovative solutions to environmental and social challenges. As one concrete example among many, we launched our Sustainable Technology program in 2011. It implements a global approach to ensure we take sustainability into consideration when we develop new products. This creates value for our company, our customers, and society in general. Our Sustainable Technology program is a unique product Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) approach to semiconductors. This approach is integrated in our product and technology development and covers chip life cycle from cradle to grave. LCA is performed in term of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, as well as water and water eutrophication, for example.
In ST, we create products for a sustainable world, in a sustainable way. We are convinced that technology can play a key role to help solve environmental, social, and societal challenges. We, therefore, believe in developing responsible products that enhance quality of life or user experience while minimizing environmental impact.
In general, power devices with better conversion efficiency (i.e. that consume less energy) help enormously in moving to a low carbon economy. The impact can be seen in mobility (hybrid and electrical cars), infrastructure (lower power consumption, better efficiency in transmitting RF signals), and in general, in all applications where power devices are used. Efficiency in power conversion is critical in the deployment and adoption of new energies, including solar and battery-powered applications.
In enabling the move to 5G and other low latency, high throughput communication systems, these support remote meeting/activities and, as a consequence, save trips by car, plane, etc.
ST for many years has targeted electric mobility, power and energy, and the Internet of Things and connectivity, which contribute to the growth and sustainability of smart cities smart buildings, and smart industry. Our efforts include enabling and better utilizing renewable energy and smart grid. These are the main drivers of our growth, which allow us to sustain our performance across market cycles.
ELE Times: The industry is facing a downturn in the semiconductor market cycle. What are the green and low carbon initiatives taken by ST’s that are likely help the semiconductor industry?
Jean-Louis CHAMPSEIX: ST contributes to the shift from traditional cars powered by internal combustion engines to smarter, greener mobility solutions. ST’s car electrification solutions enable makers to build better, more affordable electric vehicles that allow drivers to reduce air pollution and mitigate global climate change.
A second key driver to support decarbonization is related to energy, and especially renewable energy. We contribute to the transition to greener energy sources with high-power, high-efficiency power components that lower loss in energy conversion in solar panels, wind turbines, and smart grids using wide bandgap semiconductor technologies like Silicon Carbide (SiC) and Gallium Nitride (GaN).
ELE Times: A growing number of chipmakers have been committed to green development, for example, green energy use and power savings in the manufacture process, reduced power consumption in corporate data centers, and others. What is ST’s view on the growing importance of green and low carbon development in the semiconductor industry?
Jean-Louis CHAMPSEIX: The whole Semiconductor industry has been engaged for a long time on minimizing as much as possible its impact on the environment, especially related to manufacturing. For low carbon, the 2 main aspects are direct emissions, mainly due to usage of perfluorinated gases (PFCs), and energy (mainly electricity), which counts as indirect emissions (GHG protocol Scope 2). In those both domains, ST has been a longtime pioneer. We’ve actively addressed these challenges since 1994. Concretely, it means we’ve installed abatement systems in all Fabs to reduce PFC emissions as much as technically possible. ST is recognized by Its peers in this field as leading the PFC-abatement task force at the World Semiconductors Council for more than 15 years.
We have also paved the way with renewable electricity in the semiconductors industry, increasing the percentage of certified green electricity we use year by year. In 2022 62% of our used electricity was from renewable sources. We made a commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2027 and are on track with our commitment to meet 80% of our electricity needs from renewable sources in 2025 and 100% in 2027 as one element of our Carbon neutrality commitment.
With all our action plans, we are confident that we can eliminate all possible emissions and will use offsets to balance any trace of remaining emissions. ST will be Carbon neutral in 2027, confirming our leadership in Sustainability.
ELE Times: WBGs are generally considered to have the advantages of energy saving. How do you see the future of WBGs in the context of the commitment of the whole society to low carbon? What are ST’s goals and plans for this sector?
Jean-Louis CHAMPSEIX: ST’s portfolio offers a wide range of products including high-performance silicon devices and the latest generation of wide bandgap technology to satisfy the high efficiency required by renewable energies. The core of this offer leverages the advanced and innovative properties of new wide bandgap semiconductors, using silicon carbide instead of silicon. These semiconductor devices can achieve previously unobtainable efficiencies. In fact, ST has been at the forefront of the development of SiC technology for over 25 years. Compared to what was previously possible with silicon-based technology, ST’s wide bandgap devices can minimize energy wastage by cutting switching losses in half. Lower losses lead to less heat and smaller (or no) heatsinks, so they also decrease size and weight of end products leading to around 50% reduction in installation costs.
Thanks to their ability to turn on and off far faster, these ground breaking semiconductors can attain greater conversion efficiencies and handle far greater currents and voltages than previous Si-based devices could. In solar panels, wide-bandgap device can therefore support a greater number of solar cells and power, ensuring further cost advantages. In addition, control electronics that were previously separate from the rest of the solar panel, can now be packaged in it. This increases reliability and efficiency, which also reduce price.
Decarbonization efforts are increasing the demand for renewable energy and its supporting infrastructure. In this ongoing transition, semiconductors are demonstrating their importance to a new emerging clean energy economy and helping to unleash innovations for secure, scalable, and reliable energy solutions.
STMicroelectronics introduced its first SiC diodes in 2004, after several years of research and development on silicon carbide technology. ST introduced SiC MOSFETs in 2009 and began mass production in 2014. Today, ST’s portfolio of medium- and high-voltage power products based on SiC technology is among the widest in the industry. ST is actively engaged in capacity expansion and development of a comprehensive, reliable, and robust SiC supply chain able to meet demand growth and ensure continuity through extended longevity programs.
ST manufactures its SiC products to the highest standards to ensure reliable performance and efficiency gains for electric vehicle (EV) applications, solar inverters, energy storage, industrial motor drives, and power supplies. Our technology exceeds industrial and automotive application standards and is on track to target more extreme aerospace applications.
Indeed, our commitment to Silicon Carbide devices allowed us to offer industry-leading SiC MOSFETs and SiC Diodes for industrial and automotive applications. These devices target high-voltage designs thanks to their 650V or 1200V rating, depending on the part number, and can tolerate the highest junction temperature on the market today at 200ºC. However, the road to these industry-changing components was far from simple.
Doubling or tripling the bandgap in comparison to silicon means that SiC devices can tolerate much higher voltages and electric fields because the electrons need three times more energy to reach the conduction band. As a result, the breakdown voltage in SiC components is much higher while their on-resistance is far lower.
SiC enables a reduction in the overall size of the traction inverter because beyond the fact that MOSFETs devices are smaller, they also integrate a very fast freewheeling diode, whereas a bigger Silicon IGBT would require an external one on the PCB. Overall, SiC allows a reduction in size of the traction inverter of about 70%, which has a snowball effect. Indeed, since the power semiconductor can get up to 80% smaller, the cooling system and the passive components can also decrease by that much.
SiC also reduces the size of the onboard charger and battery management solution of electric vehicles. This has led to the integration of SiC into the DC-DC converter and power distribution unit. This remarkable four-in-one solution is already inside commercial battery-powered electric vehicles today and will ensure the proliferation of affordable electric cars. Overall SiC power dissipation is 75% lower than Si based technologies.
In a nutshell, Silicon Carbide offers many advantages in automotive applications: car weight reduction, greater range ( >600 km with SiC), reduction of charging time (from 16 to 7 min) because a SiC charging station can handle twice as much energy (fast charger : 350 Kw with SiC).