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Thermal Interface Materials 2020-2030: Forecasts, Technologies, Opportunities

Market trends and drivers for key industries; technology trends and emerging material opportunities.

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Thermal Interface Materials (TIM) are not glamourous but are often an essential component found in all manner of electronic and energy storage applications. Indeed, they are absolutely pervasive. They are truly a diverse technology in terms of suppliers, material options, deposition techniques, applications, market requirement and performance levels. This makes them difficult to analyse.
In this report, we have analysed all the key established and emerging technology options. This report carefully examines the applications which are extremely diverse. We cover base stations, consumer electronics, power electronics, LEDs, and energy storage. We consider real use cases and product teardowns in order to formulate our analysis and build our market models. We take a granular view for each market category. Indeed, our forecasts are broken into 51 specific sub-segments, as shown below, giving them unparalleled granularity. Finally, we provide our forecasts in area or sqm. We believe that this is the most appropriate metric in analysing the market since, in the absence of one-size-fits-all solutions, the solutions' thickness levels vary.
Changing application landscape
Our granular forecasts enable us to develop a detailed view of the key market trends. Here we briefly discuss some top-level trends.
The consumer electronic market is today the largest market category. This is because the TIM content per unit is relatively high, but, more importantly, because the annual unit sales are high. Here, TIM is used with the electronics and the batteries. In a typical mobile phone, for example, there are multiple thermal pads connecting the EMI shield lid, which covers multiple ICs, to the framework. There is also typically a heat spreader below the battery as well as behind the display. In some recent versions, a heat pipe is also introduced to act as a compact and efficient heatsink. In laptops, there are usually TIMs atop or below the CPU, GPU, SSD memory and batteries. In general, this is a large market but will not register significant growth as the unit sales are already in the saturation phase.
Telecoms is also another significant market. In traditional base stations, TIM is used in both the baseband and the remote radio head unit. The baseband unit itself is typically composed of various parts such as baseband processing board, control board, power supply, and so on. This had been a fast-growing market in recent years as LTE stations were globally rolled out. This trend will continue as LTE is still being rolled out in various parts of the world such as China. However, this trend will go into a fast decline from 2023 onwards. This is because 5G stations will start to be rolled out in more significant numbers. As such, the opportunity will shift towards 5G system.
Here, the TIM requirements are likely to be different. The rise of 5G will change the relationship between the baseband unit and the remote radio head. Furthermore, the rise of active antenna arrays will require the integration of many front-end modules, which contain a power amplifier, right behind the antenna array substrate. The fact that air losses at higher frequencies are higher will imply that power amplifier will need to output higher powers even when the gain from the active antenna array itself becomes substantial. Finally, 5G will lead to a proliferation of smaller cells, the so-called micro or femto cells. These require even more compact designs. Indeed, a trend will be to use advanced packaging technologies to achieve as much functional integration as possible per packaged chip. All these trends point towards higher power density per unit area thus more challenging TIM requirements.
Data centres are likely to continue their growth rates thanks to both increased new as well as replacement demand. These centres are very energy intensive and heat management is a critical task. TIM are used in almost all components of a data centre including the serve boards, switches, supervisor modules, and power supplies. Here, the employed TIM technologies are not likely to significantly change.
Granular market forecasts (51 forecast lines) in sqm showing how the market will dramatically increase over the coming years. The main growth areas will be in energy storage, 5G networks, and data centres. Source: Thermal Interface Materials 2020-2030: Forecasts, technologies, Opportunities.
Power electronics remain an important market for TIM. In classical power electronic modules, the baseplate is connected via a TIM to a heatsink. However, many designs in high performance applications, including many in electric vehicle traction drivers, are seeking to eliminate the TIM. This is because the TIM is the most thermally resistive section of the thermal path from the semiconductor junction to the heatsink. Indeed, many designs, some of which are already in volume production, have direct cooling, e.g., air or liquid directly cool the baseplate, and have thus eliminated the TIM. This trend suggests that the TIM consumption in electric vehicle power electronics will not grow as fast the power electronics market itself. Note that phase change materials pre-applied by the module maker are popular in power electronic modules since the wetting and spreading property together with the thinness at operating temperatures give rise to high performance which can be better guaranteed. The market remains substantial overall, registering 6% average annual growth rate between 2020 and 2030 across all the categories including home appliances, renewables, industrial, and EV as well as non-EV traction applications.
The LED market is very substantial. TIM are used in many LEDs. The LED packaging technology is diverse including die-on-lead-frame, die-on-ceramic, die-on-metal-core-PCBS, and so on. In general lighting, TIM is often used in moderate- to high-power LED lights to connect the metal-insulator-substrate or board with the heatsink. The use of LEDs in automotive lighting is also substantially growing. In the exterior of car, there are many light sources including front light, rear right, signal lights, and so on. The use of TIM will grow nearly hand-in-hand with the penetration of LEDs in automotive lighting. In headlamps, traditional light sources will compose only 55% (75% today) of the total in 2023 with the rest using standard or Matrix LEDs. LEDs are also used in LCD displays. Here, too, often a heat spreader layer is used in both backlit and edge lit LCD displays. This is a notable market given the huge aggregate surface area of annually produced screens.
The explosive growth of energy storage in electric vehicle market?
The big driver of change however is the energy storage market, or more specifically the lithium ion battery market in electric vehicles. This is because the rise of electric vehicles will translate into growing demand for batteries. Furthermore, the growth in range of electric vehicles will translate into large battery capacities. These are large batteries composed of many cells. Thermal management is a key issue, which underpins efficient performance and is also safety critical in order to prevent thermal runaway.
There are today many different ways in which thermal interface materials are used in battery modules. This is natural as a dominant settled design has yet to emerge. In nearly all cases, there is potted thermal interface materials on the bottom plate of the battery pack, creating a thermal path between the cells and the heatsink. In some cases, there are head spreaders in-between the individual cells, further promoting heat conduction. In some designs, to prevent thermal failure spreading between cells, an insulating cushion foam, e.g. PU, is deployed. In pouch cells there can also be layers of gap pads.
This market will register dramatic growth over the coming decade, thereby completely changing the market composition for TIMs. This growth is driven by (a) rise in the addressable market which is essentially the growth in all manners of electric vehicles, and (b) the high thermal material content per battery pack and indeed per kWh deployed. As a consequence, we forecast that this market segment will grow from nearly zero to more than half of the total market (in sqm terms) by 2025. This will indeed be a dramatic transformation.
Pie chart showing the market split in 2019 and in 2025. It is evident that the energy storage market will rise from nearly zero to more than half the market by 2025, representing an explosive growth opportunity. Source: Thermal Interface Materials 2020-2030: Forecasts, technologies, Opportunities.
Material Progression
Thermal interface materials can take numerous forms (and names), from gap pads/fillers to conductive adhesives, thermal greases, and beyond. There are a variety of property considerations for a TIM given its specific applications this includes the adhesiveness, viscosity, coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE), bond line thickness, reworkability, and longevity. However, the most significant is the through-plane conductivity and the thermal contact resistance (the interface of the interface material). The trend towards higher performance TIM will continue as devices utilize more dense arrangements of ICs.
This report looks at all the incumbent materials, such as the prevalent ceramic-filled silicones, phase change materials (PCM), and more.
In addition, this report looks at new emerging materials and how they are processed. It is important to consider routes to manipulating the alignment of conductive fillers. Alignment, particularly for anisotropic additives, can either provide a cost saving by using less material for same performance or improve the performance for the same filler content. This should also be considered in conjunction with the mechanical performance the matrix material provides. Achieving alignment can be done in multiple routes: mechanical, magnetic, electrical, dielectrophoresis, or in how the conductive fillers are grown.
Advanced Carbons
Many are turning to advanced carbon for higher conductivity either as a conductive filler in a polymer matrix or standalone. This includes graphite, pitch-based carbon fiber, carbon nanotubes, and graphene. As shown in the figure below, achieving vertical alignment gives the potential for high conductivity up to ca. 80 W/mk.
One of the most notable examples is the adoption of carbon fiber in the Samsung Galaxy Note9. IDTechEx has been informed that carbon fiber based TIM is also in use for power electronic devices in electric vehicles, a variety of military applications, high performance computing and more.
Graphite through to graphene as sheets, pastes or vertically aligned in pads have all received a significant amount of attention. All report significant conductivity improvements and show current and future promise in LEDs, consumer electronics, base stations and more.
Carbon nanotubes have been known since the early 1990s and have been explored as a conductive filler, but more notable is the extensive research in vertically aligned forests/arrays (VACNT). There are still notable challenges, from how the VACNT are transferred after growth through to how they achieve uniform contact resistance. However, significant collaborations and announcements from many of the leading players in China and Japan indicate that this a promising future area.
Figure 1: Benchmarking study of different carbon materials used as TIM in different forms. Source: Thermal Interface Materials 2020-2030: Forecasts, technologies, Opportunities.
Advanced Ceramics
One of the challenges with using advanced carbons is that they are electrically conductive; this means the device must be designed accordingly. Ceramics are preferred for this amongst other reasons. There are trends to more spherical or flake like particles where appropriate, but concerning emerging material there is more interest around boron nitride nanostructures. Boron nitride nanotubes (BNNT) or nanosheets (BNNS) are both starting to become commercial.
BNNTs have a wide variation in property and cost with still a limited number of players, but many are progressing from the lab to pilot plants and even full-scale production. Most cite TIM as a key target market with already some promising results and interest from significant industries.
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Table of Contents
1.1.Introduction to Thermal Interface Materials (TIM)
1.2.Overview of TIM by type
1.3.Advanced Materials for TIM
1.4.Market Overview
1.5.Market forecast: TIM for EV battery packs
1.6.Market forecast: TIM for power electronic modules
1.7.Market forecast: TIM in LED for general lighting
1.8.Market forecast: TIM in LED for automotive
1.9.Market forecast: TIM in LED for displays
1.10.Market forecast: TIM in LED for 4G/LTE base stations
1.11.Market forecast: TIM for 5G base stations
1.12.Market forecast: TIM for consumer electronics
2.1.Introduction to Thermal Interface Materials (TIM)
2.2.Key Factors in System Level Performance
2.3.Thermal Conductivity vs Thermal Resistance
3.1.TIM considerations
3.2.Thermal Interface Material by physical form
3.3.Assessment and considerations of liquid products
3.4.Ten Types of Thermal Interface Material
3.5.Properties of Thermal Interface Materials
3.6.1. Pressure-Sensitive Adhesive Tapes
3.7.2. Thermal Liquid Adhesives
3.8.3. Thermal Greases
3.9.Problems with thermal greases
3.10.Thermal Greases
3.11.Viscosity of Thermal Greases
3.12.Technical Data on Thermal Greases
3.13.The effect of filler, matrix and loading on thermal conductivity
3.14.4. Thermal Gels
3.15.5. Thermal Pastes
3.16.Technical Data on Gels and Pastes
3.17.6. Elastomeric pads
3.18.Advantages and Disadvantages of Elastomeric Pads
3.19.7. Phase Change Materials (PCMs)
3.20.Phase Change Materials - overview
3.21.Operating Temperature Range of Commercially Available Phase Change Materials
4.1.Advanced Materials for TIM - Introduction
4.2.Achieving through-plane alignment
4.3.Summary of TIM utilising advanced carbon materials
5.1.Graphite - overview
5.2.Graphite Sheets: Through-plane limitations
5.3.Graphite Sheets: interfacing with heat source and disrupting alignment
5.4.Panasonic - Pyrolytic Graphite Sheet (PGS)
5.5.Progressions in vertical graphite
5.6.Vertical graphite with additives
5.7.Graphite Pastes
6.1.Carbon fiber as a thermal interface material - introduction
6.2.Carbon fiber as TIM in smartphones
6.3.Magnetic alignment of carbon fiber TIM
6.4.Other routes to CF alignment in a TIM
6.5.Carbon fiber with other conductive additives
7.1.Introduction to Carbon Nanotubes (CNT)
7.2.Challenges with VACNT as TIM
7.3.Transferring VACNT arrays
7.4.Notable CNT TIM examples from commercial players
8.1.Graphene in thermal management: application roadmap
8.2.Graphene heat spreaders: commercial success
8.3.Graphene heat spreaders: performance
8.4.Graphene heat spreaders: suppliers multiply
8.5.Graphene as a thermal paste additive
8.6.Graphene as additives to thermal interface pads
9.1.Ceramic trends: spherical variants
9.2.Denka: functional fine particles for thermal management
9.3.Showa Denko: transition from flake to spherical type filler
10.1.Introduction to nano boron nitride
10.2.BNNT players and prices
10.3.BNNT property variation
10.4.BN nanostructures in thermal interface materials
11.1.Introduction to thermal management for EVs
11.2.Battery thermal management - hot and cold
11.3.Cell chemistry impact thermal runaway likelihood
11.4.Analysis of passive battery cooling methods
11.5.Analysis of active battery cooling methods
11.6.Emerging routes - Immersion cooling
11.7.Emerging routes - phase change materials
11.8.Main incentives for liquid cooling
11.9.Shifting OEM Strategies - liquid cooling
11.10.Global trends in OEM cooling methodologies adopted
11.11.Is tab cooling a solution?
11.12.Thermal management - pack and module overview
11.13.Thermal Interface Material (TIM) - pack and module overview
11.14.Switching to gap fillers rather than pads
11.15.EV use-case examples (1)
11.16.Battery pack TIM - Options and market comparison
11.17.The silicone dilemma for the automotive industry
11.18.TIM: silicone alternatives
11.19.The main players and considerations
11.20.Notable acquisitions for TIM players
11.21.TIM for electric vehicle battery packs - trends
11.22.TIM for EV battery packs - forecast by category
11.23.TIM for EV battery packs - forecast by TIM type
11.24.Insulating cell-to-cell foams
11.25.Heat spreaders or interspersed cooling plates - pouches and prismatic
11.26.Active cell-to-cell cooling solutions - cylindrical
11.27.Summary and Conclusions for LiB for EV
12.1.Why use TIM in power modules?
12.2.Which EV inverter modules have TIM?
12.3.When will the TIM not become the limiting factor?
12.4.Why the drive to eliminate the TIM?
12.5.Has TIM been eliminated in any EV inverter modules?
12.6.Choice of non-bonded thermal interface materials
12.7.Comparison of various thermal greases
12.8.Thermal grease: other shortcomings
12.9.Thermal grease: causes of failure
12.10.Phase change materials (PCM) in power electronics modules
12.11.Thermal resistance of grease and PCMs
12.12.TIM market forecast in $ and tons for all power modules (2019 to 2030)
13.1.Thermal Interface Materials in data centers: introduction
13.2.Introduction to data center equipment: servers, switches, and supervisors
13.3.How TIMs are used in servers
13.4.Estimating the TIM area in servers
13.5.Data center: determining the relative number of equipment by examining common design methods
13.6.Average switch port numbers
13.7.How TIMs are used in data centre switches
13.8.Estimating the TIM area in data center switches
13.9.Estimating the number of supervisor modules in data centers
13.10.How TIMs are used in supervisor modules in data centers
13.11.TIM consumption in power supply modules of data centers
13.12.How are TIMs used in power suppliers in data centers?
13.13.Ten-year server forecast in million units (2018 to 2030)
13.14.Ten-year forecasts (2018 to 2030) for switches and supervisor modules in data centers
13.15.Aggregated data center equipment unit number forecast (2018 to 2030)
13.16.Thermal interface material surface area in the data centers (2018 to 2030)
14.1.General lighting market
14.2.LED technology and application space reaches maturity
14.3.LED technology: approaching maturity
14.4.LED market: top and median performance levels in various sectors
14.5.LEDs: price target and price evolution
14.6.LEDs: why focus on thermal management
14.7.LEDs come in a variety of packages
14.8.LED package and board assembly reviews: die on lead-frame and die on ceramic on FR4 with vias
14.9.LED package and board assembly reviews: COB on metal core PCB and ceramic boards
14.10.LED packaging: improving in thermal resistance over time
14.11.Choices of thermal boards: FR4 and Insulated Metal Substrate
14.12.Insulated metal substrate: the importance of the dielectric
14.13.Choices of thermal boards: FR4 with filled thermal vias
14.14.Moderate to high power LEDs require TIM
14.15.Low power LED lamp design may have no TIM
14.16.Going from LED to board-level area
14.17.TIM: a variety of choices available
14.18.LED lighting market: unit number forecasts from 2017 to 2030
14.19.TIM market in LED general lighting (2018 to 2030) in tons and area
15.1.LED lighting market in automotive
15.2.Examples of LED headlights in various vehicles
15.3.Examples of boards used in tail and head LED automotive lights
15.4.LED for automotive: key characteristics
15.5.LED in automotive: trend towards matrix systems
15.6.LED in automotive: lumen output requirements for headlamp, tail lights and various signal functions
15.7.TIM addressable market (2018 to 2030)
15.8.TIM market forecasts in sqm and tons (2018 and 2030)
16.1.Display industry in sqm
16.2.The rise of OLED will affect the addressable market?
16.3.TIM in edge-lit and direct-lit LED-LCDs
16.4.The importance of thermal management
16.5.Estimating LED in LCD numbers
16.6.Addressable market for TIM in LED-LCD displays in sqm and tons (2018 to 2030)
17.1.A simple description to the anatomy of a base station
17.2.Background info on baseband processing unit and remote radio head
17.3.Path evolution from baseband unit to antenna
17.4.The 6 components of a baseband processing unit
17.5.BBU parts I: TIM area in the main control board
17.6.BBU parts II & III: TIM area in the baseband processing board & the transmission extension board
17.7.BBU parts IV & V: TIM area in radio interface board & satellite-card board
17.8.BBU parts VI: TIM area in the power supply board
17.9.Remote radio head unit components
17.10.RRU parts: TIM area in the main board
17.11.RRU parts: TIM area in PA board
17.13.BBU TIM forecasts in 4G/LTE base stations
17.14.RRU TIM forecast in 4G/LTE base stations
17.15.Total TIM area forecast for the 4G/LTE base stations
18.1.What is 5G
18.2.Evolution of mobile communications
18.3.What can 5G offer?
18.4.Differences between 4G and 5G
18.5.5G operates at high frequency
18.6.High Frequency lead to high capacity, low latency and changes in antennas & stations
18.7.5G base station types
18.8.5G trend: small cells (picocell and femtocell)
18.9.Base station architecture: C-RAN
18.10.Evolution of the cellular base station: overview
18.11.Radio Frequency Front End (RFFE) Module
18.12.Massive MIMO requires active antennas
18.13.5G station instalment number by year
18.14.Main suppliers of 5G active antennas unit (AAU) (1)
18.15.Case study: NEC 5G Radio Unit
18.16.Case study: Samsung 5G Access solution for SK telecom
18.17.Air cavity vs plastic overmold packages
18.18.Examples of ceramic packages
18.19.Examples of actual packaged GaN discreet PAs
18.20.GaAs also requires conductive heat slug
18.21.Air-cavity packages for full front end modules
18.22.TIM forecast in 5G base stations (macro, micro, pico, femto stations)
19.2.Galaxy 3: teardown and how TIM is used
19.3.Galaxy S6: teardown and how TIM is used
19.4.Galaxy S7: teardown and how TIM is used
19.5.Galaxy S7: teardown and how TIM is used
19.6.Galaxy S9: teardown and how TIM is used
19.7.Galaxy note 9 carbon water cooling system
19.8.Samsung S10 and S10e: teardown and how TIM is used
19.9.Galaxy S6 and S7 TIM area estimates
19.10.Oppo R17: teardown and how TIM is used
19.11.Huawei Mate Pro 30: teardown and how TIM is used
19.12.Huawei Mate Pro 20: teardown and how TIM is used
19.13.iPhone 4: teardown and how TIM is used
19.14.iPhone 5: teardown and how TIM is used
19.15.iPhone 7: teardown and how TIM is used
19.16.iPhone X: teardown and how TIM is used
19.17.Smartphone thermal material estimate summary
19.18.Asus K570U and Clevo P641RE: teardown and how TIM is used
19.19.Lenovo ThinkPad X1 and Dell XPs 13: teardown and how TIM is used
19.20.Apple MacBook Pro, Asus ROG Zephyrus M501 & Dell Inspiron 15 7000
19.22.Unit sales forecast for consumer electronics
19.23.Thermal interface material and heat spreader forecast in consumer electronics
19.24.Heat spreader material forecast in smartphones by area (excl. display)
19.25.Thermal interface material and heat spreader forecast for laptops
19.26.Thermal interface material and heat spreader forecast for tablets
19.27.Thermal interface material and heat spreader forecast for desktops
20.1.3M Electronic Materials
20.2.AI Technology
20.3.AIM Specialty Materials
20.4.AOS Thermal
20.11.DK Thermal
20.12.Dow Corning
20.13.Dymax Corporation
20.14.Ellsworth Adhesives
20.16.European Thermodynamics Ltd
20.21.Hitek Electronic Materials
20.23.Indium Corporation
20.25.Kitagawa Industries
20.26.Laird Tech
20.28.MA Electronics
20.29.MH&W International
20.32.NeoGraf Solutions
20.33.Parker Chomerics
20.35.Schlegel Electronics Materials
20.37.Smart Hight Tech
20.39.Universal Science

Report Statistics

Slides 333
Forecasts to 2030

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