Insulated-gate bipolar transistor

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An insulated-gate bipolar transistor (IGBT) is a three-terminal power semiconductor device primarily used as an electronic switch which, as it was developed, came to combine high efficiency and fast switching. It switches electric power in many applications: variable-frequency drives (VFDs), electric cars, trains, variable speed refrigerators, lamp ballasts, air-conditioners and even stereo systems with switching amplifiers. The IGBT is a semiconductor device with four alternating layers (P-N-P-N) that are controlled by a metal-oxide-semiconductor (MOS) gate structure without regenerative action.

Since it is designed to turn on and off rapidly, amplifiers that use it often synthesize complex waveforms with pulse-width modulation and low-pass filters. In switching applications modern devices feature pulse repetition rates well into the ultrasonic range—frequencies which are at least ten times the highest audio frequency handled by the device when used as an analog audio amplifier.

IGBT Comparison Table [1]
Device Characteristic Power Bipolar Power MOSFET IGBT
Voltage Rating High <1kV High <1kV Very High >1kV
Current Rating High <500A High > 500A High >500A
Input Drive Current ratio hFE
Voltage VGS
Voltage VGE
Input Impedance Low High High
Output Impedance Low Medium Low
Switching Speed Slow (µs) Fast (ns) Medium
Cost Low Medium High


The first-generation IGBTs of the 1980s and early 1990s were prone to failure through effects such as latchup (in which the device will not turn off as long as current is flowing) and secondary breakdown (in which a localized hotspot in the device goes into thermal runaway and burns the device out at high currents). Second-generation devices were much improved. The current third-generation IGBTs are even better, with speed rivaling MOSFETs, and excellent ruggedness and tolerance of overloads.[2] Extremely high pulse ratings of second and third-generation devices also make them useful for generating large power pulses in areas including particle and plasma physics, where they are starting to supersede older devices such as thyratrons and triggered spark gaps. High pulse ratings and low prices on the surplus market also make them attractive to the high-voltage hobbyists for controlling large amounts of power to drive devices such as solid-state Tesla coils and coilguns.

Static characteristic of an IGBT

This mode of operation was first proposed by Yamagami in his Japanese patent S47-21739, which was filed in 1968. This mode of operation was first experimentally reported in the lateral four layer device (SCR) by B. W. Scharf and J. D. Plummer in 1978.[3] This mode of operation was also experimentally discovered in vertical device in 1979 by B. Jayant Baliga.[4] The device structure was referred to as a ‘V-groove MOSFET device with the drain region replaced by a p-type Anode Region’ in this paper and subsequently as 'the insulated-gate rectifier' (IGR),[5] the insulated-gate transistor (IGT),[6] the conductivity-modulated field-effect transistor (COMFET)[7] and "bipolar-mode MOSFET".[8]

Plummer filed a patent application for IGBT mode of operation in the four layer device (SCR) in 1978. USP No.4199774 was issued in 1980 and B1 Re33209[9] was reissued in 1995 for the IGBT mode operation in the four layer device (SCR).

Hans W. Becke and Carl F. Wheatley invented a similar device for which they filed a patent application in 1980, and which they referred to as "power MOSFET with an anode region".[10] This patent has been called "the seminal patent of the insulated gate bipolar transistor."[11] The patent claimed "no thyristor action occurs under any device operating conditions." This substantially means that the device exhibits non-latch-up IGBT operation over the entire device operation range.

A. Nakagawa et. al. invented the device design concept of non-latch-up IGBTs in 1984.[12] The invention[13] is characterized by the device design setting the device saturation current below the latch-up current, which triggers the parasitic thyristor. This invention realized complete suppression of the parasitic thyristor action because the maximum collector current was limited by the saturation current and never exceeded the latch-up current. After the invention of the device design concept of non-latch-up IGBTs, IGBTs evolved rapidly and the design of non-latch-up IGBTs became a de facto standard.

Device structure[edit]

Cross section of a typical IGBT showing internal connection of MOSFET and Bipolar Device

An IGBT cell is constructed similarly to a n-channel vertical construction power MOSFET except the n+ drain is replaced with a p+ collector layer, thus forming a vertical PNP bipolar junction transistor.

This additional p+ region creates a cascade connection of a PNP bipolar junction transistor with the surface n-channel MOSFET.

Practical devices[edit]

Practical devices capable of operating over an extended current range were first reported by Baliga et al. in 1982.[5] A similar paper was also submitted by J. P. Russel et al. to IEEE Electron Device Letter in 1982.[7] The applications for the device were initially regarded by the power electronics community to be severely restricted by its slow switching speed and latch-up of the parasitic thyristor structure inherent within the device. However, it was demonstrated by Baliga and also by A. M. Goodman et al. in 1983 that the switching speed could be adjusted over a broad range by using electron irradiation.[6][14] This was followed by demonstration of operation of the device at elevated temperatures by Baliga in 1985.[15] Successful efforts to suppress the latch-up of the parasitic thyristor and the scaling of the voltage rating of the devices at GE allowed the introduction of commercial devices in 1983,[16] which could be utilized for a wide variety of applications.

Complete suppression of the parasitic thyristor action and the resultant non-latch-up IGBT operation for the entire device operation range was achieved by A. Nakagawa et al. in 1984.[17] The non-latch-up design concept was filed for US patents.[18] To test the lack of latch-up, the prototype 1200V IGBTs were directly connected without any loads across a 600V constant voltage source and were switched on for 25 microseconds. The entire 600V was dropped across the device and a large short circuit current flowed. The devices successfully withstood this severe condition. This was the first demonstration of so-called "short-circuit-withstanding-capability" in IGBTs. Non-latch-up IGBT operation was ensured, for the first time, for the entire device operation range.[19] In this sense, the non-latch-up IGBT proposed by Hans W. Becke and Carl F. Wheatley was realized by A. Nakagawa et al. in 1984. Products of non-latch-up IGBTs were first commercialized by Toshiba in 1985.

Once the non-latch-up capability was achieved in IGBTs, it was found that IGBTs exhibited very rugged and a very large safe operating area. It was demonstrated that the product of the operating current density and the collector voltage exceeded the theoretical limit of bipolar transistors, 2×105 W/cm2, and reached 5×105 W/cm2.[2][19]

The insulating material is typically made of solid polymers which have issues with degradation. There are developments that use an ion gel to improve manufacturing and reduce the voltage required.[20]

Applications and advantages[edit]

The IGBT combines the simple gate-drive characteristics of MOSFETs with the high-current and low-saturation-voltage capability of bipolar transistors. The IGBT combines an isolated-gate FET for the control input and a bipolar power transistor as a switch in a single device. The IGBT is used in medium- to high-power applications like switched-mode power supplies, traction motor control and induction heating. Large IGBT modules typically consist of many devices in parallel and can have very high current-handling capabilities in the order of hundreds of amperes with blocking voltages of 6500 V. These IGBTs can control loads of hundreds of kilowatts.

Comparison with power MOSFETs[edit]

An IGBT features a significantly lower forward voltage drop compared to a conventional MOSFET in higher blocking voltage rated devices, although, MOSFETS exhibit much lower forward voltage at lower current densities due to the absence of a diode Vf in the IGBT's output BJT. As the blocking voltage rating of both MOSFET and IGBT devices increases, the depth of the n- drift region must increase and the doping must decrease, resulting in roughly square relationship decrease in forward conduction versus blocking voltage capability of the device. By injecting minority carriers (holes) from the collector p+ region into the n- drift region during forward conduction, the resistance of the n- drift region is considerably reduced. However, this resultant reduction in on-state forward voltage comes with several penalties:

  • The additional PN junction blocks reverse current flow. This means that unlike a MOSFET, IGBTs cannot conduct in the reverse direction. In bridge circuits, where reverse current flow is needed, an additional diode (called a freewheeling diode) is placed in parallel (actually anti-parallel) with the IGBT to conduct current in the opposite direction. The penalty isn't overly severe because at higher voltages, where IGBT usage dominates, discrete diodes have a significantly higher performance than the body diode of a MOSFET.
  • The reverse bias rating of the N-drift region to collector P+ diode is usually only of tens of volts, so if the circuit application applies a reverse voltage to the IGBT, an additional series diode must be used.
  • The minority carriers injected into the N-drift region take time to enter and exit or recombine at turn-on and turn-off. This results in longer switching times, and hence higher switching loss compared to a power MOSFET.
  • The on-state forward voltage drop in IGBTs behaves very differently from power MOSFETS. The MOSFET voltage drop can be modeled as a resistance, with the voltage drop proportional to current. By contrast, the IGBT has a diode-like voltage drop (typically of the order of 2V) increasing only with the log of the current. Additionally, MOSFET resistance is typically lower for smaller blocking voltages, so the choice between IGBTs and power MOSFETS will depend on both the blocking voltage and current involved in a particular application.

In general, high voltage, high current and low switching frequencies favor the IGBT while low voltage, low current and high switching frequencies are the domain of the MOSFET.

IGBT models[edit]

Circuits with IGBTs can be developed and modeled with various circuit simulating computer programs such as SPICE, Saber, and other programs. To simulate an IGBT circuit, the device (and other devices in the circuit) must have a model which predicts or simulates the device's response to various voltages and currents on their electrical terminals. For more precise simulations the effect of temperature on various parts of the IGBT may be included with the simulation. Two common methods of modeling are available: device physics-based model, equivalent circuits or macromodels. SPICE simulates IGBTs using a macromodel that combines an ensemble of components like FETs and BJTs in a Darlington configuration.[citation needed] An alternative physics-based model is the Hefner model, introduced by Allen Hefner of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Hefner's model is fairly complex that has shown very good results. Hefner's model is described in a 1988 paper and was later extended to a thermo-electrical model which include the IGBT's response to internal heating. This model has been added to a version of the Saber simulation software.[21]


IGBT-Module (IGBTs and freewheeling diodes) with a rated current of 1,200 A and a maximum voltage of 3,300 V
Opened IGBT module with four IGBTs (half of H-bridge) rated for 400 A 600 V
Small IGBT module, rated up to 30 A, up to 900 V
Powerex CM600DU-24NFH IGBT module rated for 600 A 1200 V, with the cover removed to show the IGBT dies and freewheeling diodes.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Basic Electronics Tutorials.
  2. ^ a b A.Nakagawa et al., "Safe operating area for 1200-V non-latch-up bipolar-mode MOSFETs", IEEE Trans. on Electron Devices, ED-34, pp. 351–355(1987)
  3. ^ B.W. Scharf and J.D. Plummer, 1978 IEEE International Solid-State Circuits Conference, SESSION XVI FAM 16.6 "A MOS-Controlled Triac Devices"
  5. ^ a b B. J. Baliga, et al., "The insulated gate rectifier (IGR): A new power switching device", IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting, Abstract 10.6, pp. 264-267, 1982.
  6. ^ a b B. J. Baliga, "Fast-switching insulated gate transistors", IEEE Electron Device Letters, Vol. EDL-4, pp. 452-454, 1983.
  7. ^ a b J.P. Russel et al., "The COMFET—A new high conductance MOS-gated device", IEEE Electron Device Lett., vol. EDL-4, pp. 63–65, 1983
  8. ^ A.Nakagawa et al., "High voltage bipolar-mode MOSFETs with high current capability", Ext. Abst. of SSDM, pp. 309–312(1984)
  9. ^ B1 Re33209 is attached in the pdf file of Re 33209
  10. ^ U. S. Patent No. 4,364,073, Power MOSFET with an Anode Region, issued December 14, 1982 to Hans W. Becke and Carl F. Wheatley
  11. ^ "C. Frank Wheatley, Jr., BSEE". Innovation Hall of Fame at A. James Clark School of Engineering. 
  12. ^ A. Nakagawa et al., "Non-latch-up 1200V 75A bipolar-mode MOSFET with large ASO", IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting Technical Digest, pp.860-861,1984.
  13. ^ A.Nakagawa, H. Ohashi, Y. Yamaguchi, K. Watanabe and T. Thukakoshi, "Conductivity modulated MOSFET" US Patent No.6025622(Feb.15, 2000), No.5086323 (Feb.4, 1992) and No.4672407(Jun.9, 1987)
  14. ^ A. M. Goodman et al., "Improved COMFETs with fast switching speed and high-current capability", IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting Technical Digest, pp. 79–82,1983
  15. ^ B. J. Baliga, "Temperature behavior of insulated gate transistor characteristics", Solid State Electronics, Vol. 28, pp. 289–297, 1985.
  16. ^ Product of the Year Award: "Insulated Gate Transistor", General Electric Company, Electronics Products, 1983.
  17. ^ A. Nakagawa et al., "Non-latch-up 1200V 75A bipolar-mode MOSFET with large ASO", IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting Technical Digest, pp.860-861,1984.
  18. ^ A.Nakagawa, H. Ohashi, Y. Yamaguchi, K. Watanabe and T. Thukakoshi, "Conductivity modulated MOSFET" US Patent No.6025622(Feb.15, 2000), No.5086323 (Feb.4, 1992) and No.4672407(Jun.9, 1987)
  19. ^ a b A. Nakagawa et al., "Experimental and numerical study of non-latch-up bipolar-mode MOSFET characteristics", IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting Technical Digest, pp. 150–153, 1985
  20. ^ "Ion Gel as a Gate Insulator in Field Effect Transistors". Archived from the original on 2011-11-14. 
  21. ^ Hefner Jr., Allen R Jr; Diebolt, DM (1994). "An experimentally verified IGBT model implemented in the Saber circuit simulator". 9 (5). IEEE Transactions on Power Electronics: 532–542. Retrieved January 2016.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)

Further reading[edit]

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