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SiC move: STMicroelectronics banks on bringing power electronics material in house as electric cars rev up

Supply chain management is back at the forefront

Unnerved by a pre-pandemic electronics materials shortage, STMicroelectronics took the decision to start bringing its supply chain for silicon carbide in house, from substrates to end products.

Now the chip maker says its annual revenues from the semiconductor, used in electric cars and other machines and systems, will hit ten figures within the next couple of years.

SiC, along with gallium nitride (GaN), is particularly useful in power electronics. STM introduced SiC diodes in 2004, and today sells medium and high-voltage SiC diodes and MOSFETs to automotive, industrial, and other markets. The company also took a decision a few years ago that it wanted to own its supply chain for silicon carbide.

"We do not want to be limited in innovation, in cost decrease and in wafer size increase. So that’s the reason why we have decided to set up in Europe a mega factory for raw material," said STM CEO Jean-Marc Chery, during an earnings call last week with financial analysts.

His biz is investing heavily in silicon carbide for power management and analog circuitry – as part of a roughly $3.6bn CapEx spending program – and estimates its annual revenue from these SiC products will hit $1bn by 2024.

STMicroelectronics is not only building a mega SiC substrate plant in Europe, it hopes to source 40 per cent of its SiC substrates internally by 2024. The acceleration of electrification in vehicles is creating more demand for – among other things – STM's silicon carbide power transistors and diodes, Chery said. The multinational corp supplies SiC MOSFETs to Tesla, for instance.

"We are confident that we will be capable to continue to sustain our long objective to have approximately 30 per cent of market share of this booming market of silicon carbide which is connected to the acceleration of the electrification of whole vehicles," Chery said.

STMicroelectronics took steps in 2018 to secure its silicon carbide wafer supply after shortages rattled chip makers relying on the material, noted Yole Developpement, a research firm, in a recent study.

STM in February 2019 bought a 45 per cent stake in silicon carbide wafer manufacturer Norstel AB, and then bought the company outright in December that year. In November 2019, STM expanded a silicon carbide wafer supply agreement with Cree of more than $800m.

“Expanding our long-term wafer supply agreement with Cree will increase the flexibility of our global silicon carbide substrate supply," Chery said at the time. Other companies using SiC technology include On Semiconductor and Infineon Technology.

During the earnings call, Chery noted that Mobileye, which is being spun off from Intel, was a big customer. STM currently makes SiC products on 150mm wafer lines in Italy and Singapore, with sites in China and Morocco doing assembly and test activities.

STMicroelectronics reported fourth-quarter revenues of $3.56bn, growing by 9.9 per cent compared to the same quarter last year. The net profit was $750m, growing by 28.9 per cent.

For the full 2021 to December 31, revenue was $12.76bn, growing by 24.9 per cent from 2020. Net profit was $2bn, growing by 80.8 per cent. ®

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