Silicon Carbide, focus of NanoCollege, GE lab, is a Hot Material


New York State’s new $500 million New York Power Electronics Manufacturing Consortium  will develop special power control microchips made of silicon carbide instead of silicon.

Silicon carbide is the hot semiconductor device these days. It it is considered to be more efficient and durable than silicon for high-power and high-temperature devices used in cars, planes and the electric grid. They also work in solar, wind and other renewable energy systems.

GE Global Research
GE Global Research

General Electric Co. and the SUNY College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering had previously tried to land a federal power electronics manufacturing institute that would focus on silicon carbide chips.

SUNY College of NANOSC SUNY College of NANOSCALE SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING

SUNY College of NANOSCALE SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING

However, that institute was awarded to North Carolina State University a few months ago. NanoCollege officials at the time vowed to try again to land the institute, believing there was room for two of them, although it wasn’t expected that the state would go it alone.

Now, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature have decided to move forward with a New York state-focused power electronics consortium with $135 million in state money. NanoCollege CEO Alain Kaloyeros made the announcement at GE Global Research in Niskayuna.

Silicon carbide is used in car brakes and bullet-proof vests, but it is also gaining popularity in power electronic chips and LEDs.

The material is expected to double in demand over the next five years, according to a new report. Interestingly, the report was done by an Albany company called Transparency Market Research. An employee who answered the phone Tuesday hung up when asked about the source of the report.

There are several Albany-area companies that specialize in silicon carbide devices, including C9 Corp. in Malta.

Another company in Ballston Spa, Aymont Technology, makes machines that are used to produce silicon carbide wafers. It’s CEO, Larry Rowland, used to work at GE Global Research and also attended NC State.

“This announcement is huge for the region,” said Rowland, who expects to be a part of the new consortium. “They are focusing on a key area with broad applications for saving energy and creating the kind of jobs that upstate New York needs. The consortium will help build a world-class ecosystem in the technology in which my company works.”

GE has a clean room where it makes silicon carbide devices in Niskayuna on 4-inch wafers, but the consortium will be housed at the NanoCollege’s Albany campus. GE, which says its investment will total $100 million, will contribute the know-how to create a production line that will process 6-inch silicon carbide wafers, and the consortium will also utilize the Start-Up NY program to provide tax-free benefits to participants. The effort is expected to create 500 new jobs in the Capital Region.

Cree, one of the biggest makers of silicon carbide devices, and a competitor to GE on lightbulbs, is based in the Raleigh-Durham area, one of the reasons why NC State was awarded the federal power electronics institute.
Some of the theory on silicone (which General Electric was very successful with) and silicone carbide (the latest and greatest thing) rests on Thomas Edison. As GE founder Thomas Edison put it–in a saying prominently displayed at the GE Global Research headquarters in Niskayuna, New York, “I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent it.” That guy was way ahead of his times.
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