Advances in SiC MOSFET Technology Drive Down Cost of HighBay and Outdoor Lighting Fixtures
This article discusses how single-stage topologies deliver LED driver solutions with acceptable performance at a lower cost than two-stage topologies.
Single stage topologies are the designer’s choice for the lower power LED drivers. A new study of Cree C3M technology suggests the same single-stage topology could be extended well beyond what was previously possible.
For high-bay and outdoor lighting fixtures, the cost of the LED driver electronics is reported to be 17% of the total fixture cost. An additional 40% of the fixture cost is contributed by the mechanical, thermal, and electrical portions of the fixture , which help support the weight and volume of the LED driver, as well as protect the driver against surge events. New innovations in MOSFET technology enable rugged LED drivers that are also smaller, lighter, and cheaper than existing devices, bringing significant cost reductions to high-bay and outdoor lighting fixtures.
Cree's 900V C3M™ SiC power MOSFET Technology
Cree introduced a new 900V class of SiC power MOSFETs that are well suited for high-efficiency switch-mode power supply applications, such as LED lighting. The new SiC MOSFET family is based on Cree’s third generation planar SiC technology. Design improvements in this generation of SiC MOSFETs include a smaller cell pitch, an optimized cell structure, and increased blocking-layer doping levels that minimize resistance. The median specific on-resistance of the 900V SiC MOSFET is 2.3 mΩ∙cm2, which is a 42% reduction over the previous generation, and the lead product (C3M0065090D) features the lowest on-resistance rating (65mΩ) of any 900V MOSFET device currently available in the market.
The 900V SiC MOSFET only shows a 46% increase in resistance when the junction temperature is increased from 25°C to 150°C, and the on-resistance of the SiC MOSFET is 3x lower than 900V CoolMOS® technology at a junction temperature of 150°C as shown in Figure 1. This results in lower conduction losses and a higher current rating for the SiC MOSFET when operating at elevated temperatures.
The transconductance of the 900V SiC MOSFET is improved by engineered MOS channel structure so the device is fully turned on at VGS = +15V at 25°C and +12V at 150°C . In power supply applications, this eases the gate drive requirements for 900V SiC MOSFET when compared to previous generations of SiC MOSFETs, which required +18 to +20V gate bias for full enhancement. Additional improvements were made to the high-voltage reliability of the SiC MOSFET by minimizing the internal electric fields under reverse bias.
Shedding New Light on LED Driver Designs
Single-stage topologies (such as the quasi-resonant flyback as shown in Figure 2a) are widely used in low power (<100W) LED lighting applications, primarily due to their low cost, simplicity (i.e., low part count), and acceptable performance. At higher power levels, however, these single-stage topologies become impractical, forcing designers to increase the complexity of their designs (e.g., increasing switch count). This increases the overall driver cost and erodes the price/performance point that single-stage topologies are able to achieve. At power levels above 100W, two-stage topologies begin to deliver a better price/performance solution than single-stage topologies despite their increased complexity and part count. Consequently, higher power LED drivers are typically implemented using two-stage topologies, such as the power factor correction (PFC) boost converter plus LLC resonant half-bridge as shown in Figure 2b.
The power semiconductor switch performance within the driver has a significant impact on where the price/performance boundary between single- and two-stage topology is established. For current silicon (Si) superjunction MOSFET technology, this boundary appears in the 75–100W range. For third-generation silicon carbide (SiC) MOSFET technology which significantly outperforms Si devices (see Table 1), the price/performance boundary between single- and two-stage topologies is about 3x higher: 250–300W.
As such, a new generation of high-power single-stage LED drivers based on SiC MOSFETs are capable of providing unprecedented price and performance characteristics is now possible. This new generation of high-power single-stage LED drivers deliver the performance of a two-stage topology while maintaining the cost structure of a single-stage topology.
These new SiC MOSFET-based single-stage LED drivers are also capable of achieving unparalleled power density, delivering 40% volume reduction and 60% weight reduction compared to present driver technology (see Figure 3). These significant reductions in both weight and volume further increase the overall value of the new drivers by subsequently reducing the requirement as well as the cost of lighting fixtures’ supporting mechanical structural components.
Additionally, the benefits of SiC MOSFET technology in LED drivers extend far beyond the 150–250W single-stage drivers discussed herein. For example, SiC MOSFETs used in two-stage topologies can also address especially challenging requirements including high input voltage (528 VAC), ultra-wide input voltage ranges (90–528 VAC), high power (>300W), and/or high efficiency (>95%). Furthermore, as SiC MOSFET technology continues to move into lower voltages and lower power applications, they will also become the device of choice in LED power supply applications <100W.
Design Challenges: Implementing Single-Stage LED Drivers
Five key limitations and challenges must be overcome in order to implement a single-stage topology in high power LED lighting:
- Low efficiency
- Narrow operating voltages
- The high cost of EMI filter components
- The high cost of surge protection components
- High output current ripple (flicker) characteristics.
Low Efficiency and Narrow Operating Voltages
The current and voltage stresses imposed upon power MOSFETs are typically higher in single-stage topologies than two-stage topologies. These stresses are increased even further for wider input and output voltages. Eventually, these stresses have a significant impact on the converter efficiency as well as the rating (and hence the cost) of the power MOSFET used in the design. This is the primary reason why single-stage topologies are limited to low power designs with relatively narrow operating voltages.
SiC MOSFETs deliver figures of merit (FOM) that are 15 – 30x better than best-in-class 900V Si superjunction MOSFETs (see Table 1). As such, SiC MOSFETs increase the power level of single-stage topologies by approximately 3x while delivering efficiencies and operating voltages that are equivalent to those obtained with two-stage Si-based topologies. As illustrated in Figure 4, the efficiency vs. input voltage of two 220W LED drivers: one implementing a two-stage topology with Si MOSFETs, and the other implementing a single-stage topology with two versions of Cree’s SiC MOSFETs. Both drivers have equivalent operating voltage windows (120–277VAC), but the single-stage driver using SiC MOSFETs exhibits superior efficiency and effectively demonstrating that SiC MOSFETs can address the typical limitations of high-power single-stage LED drivers by providing high efficiency over a wide operating voltage range.
The High Cost of EMI Filter Components
One common perceived challenge of a single-stage high power LED drivers, is the need for more expensive Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) filters. The EMI signature of a flyback configuration is higher than that of a continuous conduction mode (CCM) boost Power Factor Correction (PFC). However, it is important to note that the EMI signature of a QRC flyback is similar to the EMI signature of the discontinuous conduction mode (DCM) boost PFCs typically used in two-stage LED drivers. It is also common knowledge that QRC flyback drivers operate using a variable switching frequency and have a reduced EMI spectrum compared to fixed-frequency flyback drivers. This spectrum reduction results from the spreading of RF emission over a wider frequency range as the switching frequency (and its harmonics) shift throughout the AC line cycle.
EMI signature is a function of topology and operating point. Therefore, one could conclude that changing from Si superjunction MOSFETs to SiC MOSFETs will not help in this regard. However, Class B conducted EMI compliance limits only the drop with a 20dB/dec slope from 150–500kHz. Common EMI filters for single-stage topologies are implemented using a two-stage LC EMI filter, which provides a maximum attenuation slope of up to 80dB/dec. Thus, given a particular EMI filter size (and cost), the harmonic spectrum of a power converter operating at a higher switching frequency will be more attenuated than the harmonic spectrum of a power converter operating at a lower switching frequency.
In Figure 5a shows the theoretical EMI signature of a two-stage topology with a DCM boost PFC first stage. Typically, the switching frequency of the first stage is 60–150 kHz in order to keep the fundamental switching frequency component from approaching the lower EMI frequency limit (150kHz). However, two-stage LC EMI filters are generally required in order to reduce the spectrum of the second, third, and higher order harmonics for EMI compliance. As illustrated in Figure 5b, the higher operating frequency (>200 kHz) enabled by SiC MOSFETs with the same EMI filter design used in the two-stage topology can deliver an extra 15dB attenuation for the first harmonic, 35 dB attenuation for the second harmonic, and 40 dB attenuation for the third harmonic, enabling the single-stage topology to reach EMI compliance without additional EMI filter cost. Additionally, a careful look at the two power supplies in Figure 3 also shows that the two-stage solution and the single-stage solution with SiC MOSFETs have similar EMI filter sizes (and hence costs).
High Output Current Ripple (i.e., Flicker)
Another challenge of a single-stage topologies vs. two-stage topologies is the output current ripple. Line frequency output current ripple translates into light output variation (i.e., flicker) for the LED array so the Alliance for Solid-State Illumination Systems and Technologies (ASSIST) has established maximum light flicker acceptability criteria. Current ASSIST guidelines state that light flicker greater than ±10% percent at 100Hz and greater than ±15% percent at 120Hz is unacceptable . To meet these criteria and minimize light flickering, LED drivers must minimize current ripple.
Figure 6 illustrates the relationship between LED current variations and light output variations. This figure shows that a ±15% variation on current translates to only ±10% variation on light output. While this relationship is unique for each LED type, it is generally accepted that an LED driver with ±10% variation in output current will meet the flicker demands of most LED arrays.
Two-stage topologies have a large, high-voltage DC link capacitor that is used as a line frequency energy buffer. The second stage is used to compensate for voltage variations in the DC link capacitor and to reduce output current ripple to ±5% via a high-bandwidth current control loop. Single-stage topologies do not employ high voltage DC link capacitors, but instead, use their output capacitors as energy storage elements. The control of the output current is implemented as a low-bandwidth average current control loop, which is typically not capable of compensating for line frequency current ripple. This topological limitation cannot be addressed by simply changing power MOSFET technologies. However, the output current ripple can still be minimized in a cost-effective manner by minimizing output voltage ripple via output capacitor sizing and the proper tuning of the current control loop.
A given LED array’s dynamic resistance determines the current ripple for a given voltage ripple. High performance LED arrays tend to have lower dynamic resistance; hence, a small voltage ripple typically translates into higher current ripple. Figure 7 depicts measured current ripple when a single-stage flyback driver with a SiC MOSFET is used to drive a high performance LED array containing Cree® XLamp® XP-G2 high brightness LEDs. The measured output current ripple is ±11% at 120Hz, which translates into ±9% light flicker, and is well within the ±15% percent mandated by ASSIST.
The output capacitors in this SiC single-stage flyback driver are the same as the capacitors used in the DC link and output sections of the Si two-stage driver (See Figure 2). As such, both driver approaches have the same capacitor cost. Adding output capacitance could improve current ripple without significantly impacting cost, though, as capacitors represent only 8% of the total BOM cost, and reducing input current total harmonic distortion (THD) could reduce current ripple an additional 8–10% with no additional BOM cost while still meeting EN61000-3-2 standards.
Example: 220W LED Driver with Universal Input Voltage
Table 2 depicts the key metrics of a typical high performance 220W LED driver using Si superjunction MOSFETs in a two-stage topology and SiC MOSFETs in a single-stage flyback topology. Both drivers have similar characteristics in terms of power, input voltage range, efficiency, THD, and power factor. The single-stage topology has higher output current ripple than the two-stage topology, but still squarely compliant with ASSIST mandates. More importantly, though, the single-stage topology using a SiC MOSFET provides significant cost reduction (>15%), volume reduction (~40%), and weight reduction (~60%) (see Table 2), and is also capable of meeting EMI Class B requirements and surge requirements to 4kV, L-L while delivering acceptable output current ripple.
Table 3 contains the approximate cost reduction of the two-stage topology with Si superjunction MOSFETs vs. the single-stage topology with a SiC MOSFET. Although the actual price of components will vary with volume, the relative price difference of the two solutions is quite relevant.
Single-stage Vs Two-stage Topologies
Single-stage topologies deliver LED driver solutions with acceptable performance at a lower cost than two-stage topologies. As such, single-stage topologies are the approach of choice for lower power (<100W) LED drivers. At higher power levels, single-stage topologies face challenges that limit their usability and value, including a limited operating voltage window, lower efficiency, and the need for additional surge protection. Consequently, two-stage topologies have dominated the market for high power LED drivers (>100W).
New advances in SiC planar technology significantly reduce the die size and cost, while at the same time reducing the on-resistance. Many of the limitations faced by single-stage topologies in high power applications can be traced back to a single root cause: the performance and FOM of the power MOSFETs employed therein. When using state-of-the-art 900V Si superjunction MOSFETs, the value proposition of single-stage topologies — lower cost, smaller size, and reduced weight — is not possible. New 900V SiC MOSFET technology not only allows lighting designers to reap the benefits of single-stage topologies in high power applications, but also, by outperforming Si superjunction MOSFET technology (see Table 1), moves the price/performance boundary of single-stage topologies from the 75–100W range enabled by Si MOSFETS up to 250–300W. As such, single-stage topologies employing SiC MOSFETs can now deliver lower cost solutions than two-stage approaches without compromising performance. Also, although a flyback topology was used here as an example for 220W LED driver, other isolated and non-isolated single-stage topologies (e.g., forward, SEPIC, etc.) are also possible using SiC MOSFETs.
The use of SiC MOSFET technology is not limited to LED drivers in the 150–300W range. SiC technology can be combined with two-stage topologies in order to address an array of unique design challenges, including high power LED drivers (up to 1,000W), ultra-wide input voltage ranges (up to 528 VAC), high efficiency (>95%), and high power density. Additionally, as SiC MOSFET technology continues to move into lower power and lower voltage applications, typical single-stage LED drivers (<75W) will also benefit from the lower total BOM, improved performance, and higher power density it enables. Consequently, SiC MOSFET technology is poised to become the device of choice for LED drivers in all power ranges.
About the Authors
Marcelo Schupbach works as the Technical Marketing Manager at Cree Inc. where he leads a cross-functional global team tasked with the development of applications that demonstrate the benefits of Wolfspeed SiC MOSFET technology, support key customer with internal evaluation of Wolfspeed SiC MOSFET technology, and also lead development of power module activities including product roadmaps and market development activities. He holds a Master's Degree and a Doctorate in Electrical and Electronics Engineering both earned at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.
Edgar Ayerbe is a Senior Product Marketing Manager at Cree company. He has demonstrated ability in successfully introducing new disruptive technologies into the mainstream market. Skilled in new product definition, technical marketing, building an international customer base in Europe, China, Korea and Japan, Go-to-market Strategy, and Strategic Partnerships.
- “Solid-State Lighting Research and Development, Manufacturing Roadmap,” U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, (September 2013), http://apps1.eere.energy. gov/buildings/publications/pdfs/ssl/ssl_manuf-roadmap_sept2013.pdf.
- “Flicker happens. But does it have to?” Cree, (2014), www.cree. com/~/media/Files/Cree/.../XLamp/.../Flicker.pdf.