SiC Valley: Italy’s Fully Integrated Breakthrough in Catania


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STMicroelectronics (STMicro) has announced plans to construct the world’s first fully integrated silicon carbide (SiC) manufacturing facility in Catania, Sicily, Italy. This investment underscores the growing importance of SiC in the tech industry, mirroring Taiwan’s dominance in silicon manufacturing. Sicily’s emergence as a hub for SiC production not only showcases the region’s expertise but also contributes to semiconductor innovation on a global scale. The new facility is targeted to start production in 2026 and to ramp to full capacity by 2033, with up to 15,000 wafers per week at full build-out.

The projected €5 billion (about $5.4 billion) multi-year investment program, with €2 billion (about $2.2 billion) support provided by the State of Italy within the framework of the EU Chips Act, reflects a strategic commitment to bolstering Europe’s position in semiconductor manufacturing. This substantial investment will drive technological advancements and strengthen the global tech networks, positioning Europe as a key player in the semiconductor industry’s future.

This groundbreaking project will feature high-volume, 200-mm SiC manufacturing dedicated to power devices and modules, as well as comprehensive test and packaging capabilities. STMicro’s Catania Silicon Carbide Campus will consolidate all aspects of SiC production, from research and development to manufacturing and from substrate creation to module assembly, on a single site. This vertical integration is designed to streamline operations, enhance innovation and reduce production costs, ultimately benefiting customers seeking sustainable and high-performance solutions.

The Silicon Carbide Campus focuses on decarbonization and enhancing energy efficiency. The BMW Group showed a video during a press conference in Catania highlighting the facility’s pivotal role in its electrification strategy.

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Florian Weig, SVP of the purchasing and supplier network digital at BMW, said that the BMW group is systematically electrifying its product portfolio to serve the growing demand for electrified mobility, for over 15 fully electric models by 2024 and 50% electric vehicle sales by 2030. Key to this evolution is semiconductor technology, particularly SiC, crucial for efficient electric drivetrains and charging systems.

Through the collaboration, the Silicon Carbide Campus aims to accelerate the shift toward sustainable energy solutions, underscoring the commitment to reducing carbon footprints and promoting efficient energy use in the automotive industry.

The partnership supports technology development, product testing and high-volume manufacturing, reflecting BMW’s commitment to forward-looking, innovative solutions in e-mobility.

Jean-Marc Chery, president and CEO of STMicro, emphasized the pivotal role the campus will play in enhancing STMicro’s leadership in SiC technology for automotive and industrial sectors. Chery noted that the integrated capabilities of this project will be instrumental in driving innovation and expanding high-volume manufacturing capacity. This development is expected to significantly benefit European and global customers as they advance toward electrification and pursue energy-efficient solutions to meet their decarbonization objectives.

Maurizio Tamagnini, vice chairman of STMicro’s Supervisory Board. (Source: Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio)

Giuseppe Notarnicola, president of STMicro Italy, emphasized the significance of this development, noting that with 12,555 employees, the company is dedicated to increasing its investments in research and development to stay at the forefront of innovation. Maurizio Tamagnini, vice chairman of the STMicro supervisory board, echoed this sentiment, noting that these advancements are crucial for maintaining the company’s leadership in delivering pioneering technologies that meet the evolving demands of global markets.

Giuseppe Notarnicola, president of STMicro Italy. (Source: Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio)

Facility

Following the acquisition of Norstel, a vertically integrated SiC facility was established. The facility emphasizes the importance of defect analysis using X-ray techniques. A crucial part of the process involves a detailed analysis of the crystal lattice. This ensures the high quality and performance of SiC products, essential for various advanced applications.

SiC, a compound of silicon and carbon, offers advantages over conventional silicon for power applications due to its wide-bandgap, superior thermal conductivity, higher switching speed and lower energy dissipation. Ideal for high-voltage devices above 1,200 V, SiC is essential in EVs, fast-charging infrastructure, renewable energy and industrial applications, including data centers, enhancing energy efficiency. STMicro leads in SiC through 25 years of R&D, centered in Catania. STMicro manufactures SiC products on 150-mm wafer lines in Italy and Singapore and a 200-mm facility under construction in China through a joint venture with Sanan Optoelectronics, supported by assembly and test operations in Morocco and China.

The production of SiC is notably more complex than that of silicon, which has become a commodity due to its mature and straightforward manufacturing process. SiC, however, presents unique challenges due to its hexagonal lattice structure and the existence of over 300 different polytypes. This complexity necessitates a highly controlled production environment and specialized equipment.

The sublimation method is used to grow SiC ingots. This process takes place in specialized furnaces where crucibles filled with SiC powder and seed crystals are heated to temperatures as high as 2,500 degrees Celsius. The controlled environment within the furnace, including low pressure and the introduction of specific gases, facilitates the growth of SiC crystals. Unlike silicon, which can grow meters within hours, SiC requires several weeks to grow just a few centimeters due to its complex structure.

Post-growth, the ingots undergo a series of mechanical processes, starting with grinding to achieve the desired flatness and smoothness. Following this, the ingots are sliced into wafers. This slicing is particularly challenging due to the hardness of SiC. The facility utilizes both traditional wire-slicing methods and an innovative laser-cutting technique. The latter significantly reduces material loss, which is critical given the high cost of SiC.

Throughout the press event, the importance of quality control and vertical integration was emphasized. By controlling the entire supply chain—from raw material to finished wafer—the facility ensures that any defects can be traced back to their source, enabling continuous improvement and cost reduction. This integration also accelerates the feedback loop, linking material defects to electrical performance issues, thus enhancing the overall reliability and performance of SiC devices.

STMicro solutions, from material to chip. (Source: Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio)

SiC Valley in Sicily

During the press conference, Margrethe Vestager, EVP for A Europe Fit for the Digital Age and European Commissioner for Competition, praised the impressive advancements and collaboration in semiconductor production led by STMicro. She stressed that the achievement is “not rocket science; it is so much more complex,” noting the sophisticated automation and machinery involved. Vestager also acknowledged the robust industrial cluster created through partnerships with universities, research institutions and suppliers across Europe, calling it “an amazing achievement.”

Vestager noted the historical significance of the company, mentioning its 60-year legacy and recent milestones, such as receiving almost €300 million (about $326 million) in state aid to build a SiC wafer production line. She celebrated the approval of nearly €2 billion (about $2.2 billion) in new funding for further development, which will enhance Europe’s manufacturing capacity and technological advancement. Vestager also pointed out the importance of such investments in reducing reliance on fossil fuels and boosting the mobility sector, where “connected appliances easily contain more than 3,000 chips.”

Vestager concluded by praising the combination of political ambition and strategic investments, ensuring taxpayers’ money is “used wisely” and “in a way that benefits everyone.” She noted the role of competition laws in fostering sustainable development and preventing subsidy races that could be more costly.

Adolfo Urso, the Minister of Enterprises and Made in Italy, spoke on behalf of President Giorgia Meloni during a historic day for Sicily and the entire country. In an emotional speech, Urso thanked all the authorities present, noting the significance of the Etna Valley where about 60 years ago the first stone of the current STMicro hub was laid, symbolizing the perseverance and passion that transformed the region into a key center for technological development in the Mediterranean.

The investment by Silicon Box in Northern Italy, with €3.2 billion (about $3.5 billion) allocated to construct a plant to produce chiplets, is a tangible sign of this commitment. The Italian government will contribute with funding from the Microelectronics Fund, creating 1,600 new jobs. This project is part of a broader context of €10 billion (about $ 10.8 billion) in microelectronics investments expected by the end of the year.

From left to right, Jean-Marc Chery, president and CEO of STMicro; Margrethe Vestager, EVP for A Europe Fit for the Digital Age and European Commissioner for Competition; Adolfo Urso, the Minister of Enterprises and Made in Italy. (Source: Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio)

Urso also mentioned the new resources from the PNRR, with €13 billion (about $14.1 billion) allocated for digital and green innovation, redefined in the latest European negotiations with the Transition 5.0 Green plan. This synergy between Italy and France represents a model of cooperation that could become a global reference, solidifying Italy as a leader in the European and global technological challenge.

The investment is crucial for reducing dependency on single suppliers and preventing future chip shortages, which have previously caused significant delays in consumer products like cars. The initiative promises job creation and technological advancements, with a particular emphasis on AI and data integration for efficient production. According to the speakers, the collaboration between STMicro and the Italian government has been constructive, ensuring that public funds are utilized efficiently. The project also fosters local talent and community engagement, emphasizing the human and emotional aspects of technological development.

Key elements of this project include significant job creation and the incorporation of advanced technologies, such as AI for process control and maintenance. The AI integration will enable faster data processing and improved operational efficiency, giving STMicro a competitive edge in the global market. The partnership has been marked by effective collaboration with the Italian government, ensuring the prudent use of taxpayer money while fostering innovation and technological self-sufficiency in Europe.

Moreover, this project emphasizes the importance of local engagement, with strong ties to local universities and engineering schools, promoting community involvement and the development of local talent. The initiative also aligns with broader European strategies to reduce reliance on non-European suppliers and maintain a robust, diversified semiconductor ecosystem. This project underscores the strategic importance of semiconductors for various applications, including EVs and digital technologies, and stresses the emotional and human aspects of technological progress, driven by community and familial ties within the workforce.

STMicro in Sicily. (Source: Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio)
STMicro collaborations and locations in Italy. (Source: Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio)



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