February 24, 2024

The Evolution and Impact of Power MOSFETs in Power Electronics: From Concept to Ubiquitous Component

Power MOSFET: An essential component for power electronics

Power MOSFET (Metal Oxide Semiconductor Field Effect Transistor) is a key component used in power electronics applications. As the name suggests, a power MOSFET is primarily different from a regular MOSFET due to its ability to handle higher currents and voltages. With advances in semiconductor technology, power MOSFETs have become ubiquitous and play an integral role in areas like motor control, renewable energy systems, power supplies and more.

History and Evolution of Power MOSFET

The first MOSFET, invented by Mohamed Atalla and Dawon Kahng at Bell Labs in 1959, could not handle appreciable power levels. But incremental improvements soon led to power handling capability of MOSFETs. In 1970s, power MOSFET emerged and found usage in applications operating at up to 100V. However, it was Hitachi who introduced the first commercial power MOSFET, the 2SK170, in 1975 which truly marked the beginning of power MOSFET as a power device.

Since then, power MOSFET technology evolved rapidly. Reduced cell pitch and improved manufacturing processes helped increase the power rating steadily. By 1990s, MOSFETs could operate comfortably at voltages up to 500V. Even higher voltage power MOSFETs operating at 600V and above soon became common. In the last decade, advanced silicon-on-insulator technology and new materials have contributed to the development of next-generation power MOSFETs capable of delivering more power at even higher voltages.

Working Principle and Key Features

A power MOSFET works on the principle of charge control by an electric field. It has four terminals – Gate, Drain, Source and Body which form an insulated gate bipolar transistor (IGBT) structure. Applying a positive voltage at the gate terminal with respect to source creates an inversion layer channel between drain and source through which charge carriers can flow easily. This allows or blocks the flow of current between drain and source depending on the gate voltage.

Some salient features of power MOSFETs that make them suitable for high power applications include very low on-resistance when turned on, fast switching speeds, negligible switching losses and robustness to handle high currents and voltages typically ranging from a few volts to thousands of volts. Advanced power MOSFETs also feature low gate charge which results in low switching losses.

Applications and Impact

The widespread use of power MOSFETs in various applications stems from their excellent figure of merits compared to other power semiconductor devices. DC-DC converters, inverters, motor drive circuits are some common applications that take advantage of the characteristics of power MOSFETs. Renewable energy systems and electric vehicles have greatly benefitted from power MOSFETs as well.

Power MOSFETs have played a critical role in transforming power electronics and enabling more energy efficient systems. They have aided efficiency improvements in areas like computer power supplies, switched mode power supplies, adapters and various consumer electronic goods. Power MOSFETs laid the foundation for solid-state replacements of electromechanical relays, contactors and other components thereby driving reliability. They have also helped miniaturize power electronics systems significantly.

Future Outlook

Going forward, power MOSFET technology will continue its upward trajectory driven by relentless push for more efficiency, power density and cost reduction. Wide bandgap materials like silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN) are expected to significantly enhance the performance boundaries of power MOSFETs and other power devices. SiC MOSFETs offer lower conduction and switching losses compared to silicon counterparts. GaN power transistors promise to deliver even better figures of merit. 3D packaging techniques will further reduce parasitic elements and allow higher power integration.

Power MOSFET has emerged as the standard building block in contemporary power electronics landscape. Its evolution over the decades enabled entirely new classes of efficient and reliable power systems. Future innovations will see power MOSFET and related technologies playing a pivotal role in areas like EV charging infrastructure, renewable energy harnessing and beyond. Wider adoption of wide bandgap devices also holds promise for further revolutionizing power electronics solutions.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it