Commentary / New Wolfspeed Wafer Fab

In Love with the Saarland

7. Februar 2023, 15:27 Uhr | Ralf Higgelke
WEKA Fachmedien, Gregg Lowe, Cree, Wolfspeed, PCIM 2018
Gregg Lowe (left), President and CEO of Wolfspeed, with Markt&Technik editor Ralf Higgelke in 2019.
© WEKA Fachmedien

Gregg Lowe found a new love: the Saarland. This is what the CEO of Wolfspeed confessed when he announced that the company is planning the world's largest semiconductor manufacturing plant for silicon carbide semiconductors in Ensdorf, Saarland.

Gregg Lowe's fondness for Germany is well known. In the 1980s he worked in Freising near Munich for a Texan semiconductor manufacturer, part of his family lives here, and he speaks German reasonably well. But the fact that he prefers this small federal state in the far west was new.

When I asked him why Wolfspeed had chosen this location, he replied that the state government there really pushed hard from the very beginning to secure this investment of about three billion euros. Secondly, he mentioned the large pool of experienced and well-trained technicians and engineers from which the future team for the "Saarplant" could be recruited.

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On February 1, 2023, Wolfspeed and its partner ZF announced plans to not only build the first fab for 200mm silicon carbide wafers outside the US. At the same time, it will also be the largest dedicated SiC wafer fab in the world. Why Saarland made the running was explained to us exclusively by Wolfspeed CEO Gregg Lowe.

As a result, the transformation process away from coal and steel and from the internal combustion engine to renewable energies and electromobility is creating an opportunity for the region. "Today we start writing a new chapter in the economic structure of our state," summarized Anke Rehlinger, the state’s minister President. She hopes that this decision will act as a nucleus for further high-tech settlements.

Nevertheless, the decision to build another 200-mm fab comes as no surprise. The first part of the John Palmour Manufacturing Center for Silicon Carbide in North Carolina is scheduled to ramp up in 2024. Wolfspeed will then produce huge quantities of SiC substrates with a diameter of 200 mm there. And those must be processed. But the only 200-mm fab in operation today is Wolfspeed's Mohawk Valley Fab, which opened just eleven months ago in New York State. Another indication that time was very pressing for a second fab is the fact that Wolfspeed announced this investment even before the European Union approved the subsidies from the IPCEI fund. But this should only be a formality.

The fact that Silicon Saxony missed out this time took its managing director Frank Bösenberg sportsmanlike: "You must allow others the opportunity for a treat. And I sincerely believe that it is better for the entire industry - and thus also for Silicon Saxony - if semiconductors are manufactured in more federal states in Germany.

Will other chip manufacturers now discover their love for the Saarland?

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