STMicroelectronics receives $2.2B to build the world’s first silicon carbide factory

Rome grants billions of Euros to STMicroelectronics to build silicon carbide chips in Sicily.

SOURCE: Tom’s Hardware

STMicroelectronics, a French-Italian multinational tech company, is set to receive a €2B ($2.2B) grant from the Italian government to help build a €5B ($5.4B) chip production facility in Sicily. This factory will be the world’s first fully integrated silicon carbide (SiC) semiconductor factory, as per New Electronics, and is designed to create microchips for EVs.

Reuters reports that the grant falls under EU’s investment efforts to build up domestic chip production infrastructure, similar to the US’s CHIPS Act and China’s Big Fund. These massive investments in microchip production highlight how crucial semiconductors have become to the global economy, especially as the chip shortage during the global pandemic of 2020 exposed the vulnerabilities of trillion-dollar industries to disruption.

STMicroelectronics is the first company to get approval for grants from the EU, but Intel and TSMC are also applying for these grants for their projects in Germany. The EU’s Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager said, “I think it’s really important that we do this, because it’s also signaling to the rest of the world, you should not build up capacity to think that you can own this market, because it’s so strategically important to us not to have single supplier dependencies.”

According to Vestager, STMicroelectronic’s grant approval shows how the EU is determined to have multiple sources for its chip requirements. She added, “I’m absolutely sure that there will be more investments also in other states and I think they will also come relatively soon, but I cannot tell you (when).”

But aside from this investment, what makes this development interesting is its focus on SiC. Instead of using the traditional silicon wafer, STMicroelectronics will use silicon carbide, which has better qualities with regard to hardness, thermal conductivity, and thermal expansion. This makes it highly suitable for automotive and industrial applications, including solar cells and AI data centers.

Developments in SiC technology go hand-in-hand with other research on post-silicon chips. This is crucial, especially as Moore’s Law, which says that transistor counts on chips will double every two years, slows down to every three years. This new ST Microelectronics facility aims to integrate all the company’s research and development on SiC chips, including work on processes, product design, packaging, and more. It will also create these chips in the same location, allowing R&D and production to flow more smoothly.

STMicroelectronics expects that facility to start pumping out SiC semiconductors by 2026, and it will take seven years for it to hit full capacity, producing 15,000 silicon carbide wafers per week when it’s running at full tilt.

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