Advanced Semiconductors Enable Cleaner, More Efficient Use of Energy

Wednesday, Jun 11, 2014, 4:00pm

by David Isaacs, Vice President, Government Affairs

Two recent articles illustrate the many ways in which advancements in semiconductors can promote energy efficiency and clean energy.

One article from Green Car Reports, Toyota Improves Semiconductor Tech In Hybrids, 10 Percent MPG Gains, describes how the car company is using a new material – silicon carbide instead of silicon – in its power semiconductors located in the car’s power control unit to improve fuel efficiency through less loss of electrical power. According to the article, an estimated 20 percent of electrical power loss is associated with power semiconductors, and silicon carbide power semiconductors have low power loss, enabling them to use electrical energy more efficiently. Because transportation comprises 28 percent of overall energy consumption in the U.S., this type of efficiency gain can make a major contribution to energy conservation, cost savings, and reduced emissions.

Semiconductor technology is also driving improvements in the production of renewable, clean energy. In an article in the MIT Technology Review, a professor has identified a way to produce more efficient solar panels much more cheaply than current approaches by using III-V materials, such as gallium arsenide and indium phosphide, instead of silicon. These solar cells are capable of a 25 percent efficiency rate, compared with a rate below 18 percent for silicon-based solar cells. By driving down the costs associated with more efficient solar cells, this technology has the potential to make solar energy more competitive with traditional sources of power generation.

These two examples represent just a sampling of the ways that semiconductors can contribute to meeting our global energy and climate challenges.