Silicon carbide (SiC) is a new material that is beginning to take over some functions performed by traditional semiconductors. Silicon carbide has many benefits, including being stronger and more resistant to heat than silicon. The difference in resistance to high temperatures between silicon carbide and silicon means that it can be used at much higher temperatures without risk for damage, which makes it a great candidate for extreme environments such as space or hyper-dense data centers.
Silicon carbide also operates at much higher voltages than silicon, meaning that it requires less energy to operate devices with the material. However, because this material is so new, there are only a few manufacturers around the world currently manufacturing silicon carbide. Scientists are working on developing processes to manufacture this product in volume and cheaply but they have yet to come up with a solution. Until then, only expensive niche applications will use this material; expect it to become much more common within the next decade or two. One possible application of silicon carbide could be in the field of computer processors, where it could replace silicon as a key component.
Unlike other materials such as gallium arsenide, silicon carbide would not require significant changes to existing designs when replacing silicon. Current computing power is provided through the density of metal connections in integrated circuits—this metal density is one area where chips built using gallium arsenide excel over those made from other materials. Another advantage that gallium arsenide has over silicon carbide is its ability to emit light—current computer chips use optical cables to send signals from chip to chip and this could potentially change if new systems were developed for transferring data optically instead.
One problem with gallium arsenide is that it does not work well below -180 degrees Celsius. For example, any device designed to survive in outer space needs an alternative material due to the coldness of space (-270 degrees Celsius). Silicon carbide could theoretically fulfill this need since its melting point is twice that of silicon (-330 degrees Celsius). In addition, while many industries are starting to rely heavily on computer technology, car companies still rely heavily on mechanical parts. A potential application for silicon carbide here may be in making combustion engines more efficient by reducing wear and tear caused by friction.