Intel, Renesas Make Strategic Moves in Power Semiconductors

February 01, 2024 by Mike Falter

Two major companies make acquisitions impacting wide bandgap semiconductors and software-defined vehicle technology for electric vehicles.

Renesas Electronics Corporation has acquired Transphorm, Inc., a leader in developing wide bandgap gallium nitride (GaN) semiconductor technologies, in an all-cash transaction valued at about $339 million. The acquisition will allow Renesas to develop high voltage, power-dense GaN solutions internally for the rapidly growing electric vehicle (EV), data centers, industrial power, and renewable energy markets.


SuperGaN FETs

SuperGaN FETs. Image used courtesy of Transphorm


As part of its plans to expand its “AI everywhere” strategy to the automotive market, Intel will acquire Silicon Mobility SAS. Based in Valbonne, France, Silicon Mobility is a start-up (Series B) fabless semiconductor and software company that develops system-on-chip (SoC) solutions to efficiently manage electric motors, battery, and energy management systems in hybrid and electric vehicles.  

Expanding the Renesas Wide Bandgap Portfolio

Just last year, Renesas entered the wide bandgap (WBG) device market by investing in an internal silicon carbide (SiC) production line backed by a long-term SiC wafer supply agreement with Wolfspeed.

The acquisition of Transphorm will complement the company’s recent SiC investments, allowing for the development of GaN devices alongside SiC. The expansion means Renesas can offer a more comprehensive WBG portfolio.


OBC reference design with SuperGaN FETs

OBC reference design with SuperGaN FETs. Image used courtesy of Transphorm


Together, SiC and GaN devices are transforming the power electronics industry, allowing circuits to operate at increasingly higher voltages, frequencies, and power densities. While SiC and GaN often compete head-to-head, they do bring different capabilities to the design mix. SiC generally performs better in applications demanding the highest voltages, while the most power-dense applications often rely on GaN for its extremely high switching speeds.

Transphorm’s SuperGaN FET technology employs a proprietary cascode device architecture to improve performance and make GaN devices easier to work with. According to Hidetoshi Shibata, CEO of Renesas, the acquisition of Transphorm will allow the company to build on its momentum in high-voltage IGBT and SiC, expanding its overall power portfolio to serve as an engine of growth. 

The Software-Defined Vehicle 

Intel’s acquisition of Silicon Mobility is part of its larger plan to integrate the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technologies within its software-defined vehicle (SDV) solutions. 

According to Intel, the modern car contains over a mile of internal copper cabling that connects more than 100 individual electronic control units (ECUs), each designed for a specific purpose. The concept of the SDV is to use far fewer general-purpose processors (hardware) configured with software to manage the multitude of functions within the vehicle. The result is a better-performing and more cost-effective system.


E-Motor control using Silicon Mobility SoC.

E-Motor control using Silicon Mobility SoC. Image used courtesy of Silicon Mobility

Along with the Silicon Mobility acquisition, Intel is also launching a family of internally developed SoCs designed for in-vehicle AI applications like GenAI and camera-based driver/passenger monitoring. Automotive OEM Zeekr will be among the first to adopt the new technology within its vehicle platforms.

For their part, Silicon Mobility promotes their OLEA APP inverter and FPCU solution as a configurable, off-the-shelf hardware/software solution capable of controlling any type of e-motor, including permanent and non-permanent magnets, axial and radial, synchronous and asynchronous, and many phases.