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GlobalFoundries, STMicroelectronics said to mull French fab

For what purpose, as 'energy efficient chips with advanced technology' really doesn't quite narrow it down?

As Intel plans to start construction on a massive chip manufacturing site in Germany, chipmakers GlobalFoundries and STMicroelectronics are reportedly mulling a joint venture to build a fab in France.

The proposed fab in question – reported by Bloomberg – would help Europe fight future chip shortages and support the European Union's goal of producing 20 percent of the world's semiconductors by 2030.

New York-based GlobalFoundries and Geneva-based STMicroelectronics are hoping to get government subsidies for the French fab as part of the EU's proposed European Chips Act, the report suggested, citing sources familiar with the discussions. The potential focus for the France factory could be "energy efficient chips with advanced technology," it said, without offering specifics.

Neither company would comment directly on the report, though both made broad statements about the importance of working together with governments and other parties to improve the industry.

Some healthy speculation

It's important to note that GlobalFoundries and STMicroelectronics have not been focused on leading-edge manufacturing nodes – the kind of thing chipmakers TSMC, Samsung and Intel use to make high-performance computer chips for everything from supercomputers to smartphones.

In fact GlobalFoundries, which spun out of AMD in 2009 after the processor designer decided to go fabless, got out of the leading-edge node business in 2018 so that it could focus on specialized processes.

Thus, it's highly likely this rumored fab in France won't be producing the latest and greatest CPUs and GPUs. Instead, Europe would have to look to Intel's mega-site project in Germany for such output when those fabs go online in 2027. 

If the France fab is expected to produce "energy efficient chips with advanced technologies," there is a chance it could be related to a collaboration GlobalFoundries and STMicroelectronics announced earlier this year around FD-SOI technology that can be used to make low-power chips for automotive, IoT and mobile applications.

If you really want to jump into the speculation wormhole, we think another possible area of focus for the plant could be silicon photonics – a technology that can transmit data faster while consuming less energy than usual through the use of light rather than electrical signals.

Silicon photonics has been a growing priority for GlobalFoundries, which announced earlier this year that its technology for producing optical chips is mainstream-ready and receiving interest from the likes of Nvidia, Cisco and others. The chipmaker is tackling energy efficiency in other ways, like with its FinFET processes for datacenters and edge servers.

STMicroelectronics, on the hand, has focused on energy efficiency with things like microcontrollers and power management chips that go inside a wide range of electronics.

But that's all speculation for now. We just want to set some expectations for our friends in France. ®

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