Korea's SKC gets $75M in CHIPS change for US-based glass substrate plant

Set up as a gamble, the Absolics subsidiary has just paid off

The CEO of South Korean chemical firm SKC made a big bet on the US CHIPS Act when he decided to grow his manufacturing site in the American South. That gamble has now paid off with some CHIPS change coming SKC's way to help bankroll its factory expansion.

The US Commerce Department announced Thursday it is awarding $75 million from the CHIPS Act subsidy pool to SKC subsidiary Absolics to support the construction of additional facilities in Covington, Georgia. Those facilities will be focused on the development and production of glass semiconductor substrates.

According to the department, it's the first CHIPS Act investment in a commercial facility to manufacture new advanced materials for the semiconductor industry – that material being glass substrates. The $53 billion CHIPS funding pool was created by the White House and Congress to boost the development and manufacturing of semiconductors on US soil to help the country ween itself off foreign suppliers.

"An important part of the success of President Biden's CHIPS program is ensuring the United States is a global leader in every part of the semiconductor supply chain," said Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. "The advanced semiconductor packaging technologies Absolics is working on will help to achieve that goal." 

Glass is looking increasing attractive as a substrate layer upon which advanced silicon dies sit. Intel, for one, believes glass substrates are the future of multi-die processor packages, and that's perhaps a big reason why Absolics is investing in them.

Absolics' parent is a subsidiary of the South Korean mega-chaebol SK Group, which includes among its other subsidiaries chip giant SK hynix. Having an in-house maker of cutting-edge substrates makes perfect sense given the SK umbrella. 

Not long after President Biden signed the CHIPS Act into law, SKC CEO Woncheol Park came to Georgia to announce an expansion of the company's decades-old Covington plant for glass semiconductor work. SK pledged it would spend $240 million on a 120,000-square-foot Absolics facility to manufacture glass substrates, which Park predicted "will be the key material in the high-performance computing industry" in the coming years. 

In 2022 Park said glass substrates made in the US would largely be shipped to Asia for semiconductor manufacturing, with some surely ending up at SK hynix. The reason for making them in America, he said, was because US semi manufacturing was booming (thanks to the CHIPS Act) and a local glass substrate plant would be well-positioned to benefit from demand for the material.

Now the biz has applied for and bagged $75 million in direct funding from the US government to support that Absolics factory.

"Currently, the advanced packaging substrates market is concentrated in Asia," the Commerce Department said, while noting that "the path to advanced packaging starts with substrates." 

The plan is for Absolics, founded in 2021, to continue its research work with Georgia Tech and the US Department of Defense, along with expanding SKC's facilities and getting its glass substrates into the US chipmaking market.

"With the support of this proposed CHIPS funding," said Absolics CEO Jun Rok Oh, "Absolics would be able to fully commercialize our pioneering glass substrate technology for use in high-performance computing and cutting-edge defense applications." ®

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