Cree Invests $1 Billion in Silicon Carbide Fabrication Facilities

September 26, 2019 by Gary Elinoff

Cree is doubling down on SiC with new facility expansions and the creation of what it claims will be the largest silicon carbide device manufacturing facility in the world.

Cree, Inc. a global leader in silicon carbide (SiC) technology, today announced plans to establish a “silicon carbide corridor” on the East Coast of the United States with the creation of what it describes as the world’s largest silicon carbide fabrication facility.

The company will invest $1 billion in new facilities meant to expand their silicon carbide wafer fabrication. In addition to upgrading and expanding new fab facilities in Cree's main campus in Durham, NC, there will be a new facility farther north.

Located in Marcy, NY the new plant—referred to as "North Fab"—will be an automotive-qualified, 200 mm power and RF wafer fabrication facility, built to complement the mega materials factory expansion currently underway at its Durham headquarters.

This news is "one of the most significant announcements in the company's history" and may represent a new era in wide-bandgap semiconductors. According to Cree's projections, the new facilities will allow the company to increase their SiC wafer fabrication capacity 30-fold.


The allocation of the investment funds by project, Image (modified) from Cree, Inc.

Preparing for Increasing Silicon Carbide Demand: EVs, 5G, and Industrial Applications

According to an announcement made by Cree's CEO, Gregg Lowe, the company claims that this move "represents the largest capital investment in the history of silicon carbide and GaN manufacturing."

The new facility is meant to prepare Cree for its role in the epical transition from silicon to silicon carbide now taking place worldwide in the electronics industry. The New York plant will enable the company’s Wolfspeed division to satisfy the unrelenting demands of the industrial markets and of electric vehicle (EV) and 4G/5G mobile manufacturers for the company’s world-renowned SiC semiconductor devices. 

Lowe highlighted the places where SiC and GaN-on-SiC (gallium nitride, another WBG semiconductor) shine the brightest: applications that require faster switching and high power. Combined with the additional benefits of smaller, lighter power supplies, SiC and GaN have been gaining ever-more traction over the years, especially in places like the automotive industry.

In the written announcement, Lowe added that "Silicon carbide is one of the most pivotal technologies of our time, and is at the heart of enabling innovation across a wide range of today’s most groundbreaking and revolutionary markets, including the transition from the internal combustion engine to electric vehicles and the rollout of ultra-fast 5G networks."


Cree's breakdown of demand for 5G investment. Image (modified) from Cree, Inc. Click to enlarge.


Cree cites that there has been $200 billion in announced investment in improving 4G networks and 5G infrastructure across the industry. They also cite $300 billion in announced investments into EVs over the last 18 months from companies such as BMW, Toyota, and Audi. These are the indicators that have informed Cree's decisions to invest in SiC and GaN-on-SiC.


Choosing Strengths (and Turning Out the Lights?)

Some may be familiar with Cree due to its presence in the world of lighting, especially LEDs. Consider, however, that Cree laid foundations for dominating in the SiC space in 2017 and acquired Wolfspeed (known for its SiC, GaN, and RF solutions) in 2018. When put all together, it seems that the company is putting increasing emphasis on the world of wide-bandgap (WBG) semiconductors. It may also be notable that Cree sold Cree Lighting as a division to IDEAL INDUSTRIES, INC. in March.

A Strategic Partnership with the State of New York

Through a strategic partnership with NY Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and other state and local entities, the way has been paved for both the inception of the plant and for its future expansion. As part of the deal, Cree will invest approximately $1 billion in construction, equipment and other related costs for the fabrication facility, known in electronics lingo as a “fab.” 

New York State, for its part, will provide a $500 million grant from Empire State Development. Cree will be eligible for additional local incentives and abatements as well as equipment and tooling from the State University of NY (SUNY.) 

As Eric J. Gertler, Empire State Development Acting Commissioner and President and CEO-designate, puts it, "this partnership will be a key part of our work to strengthen the research and scientific assets that New York State will use to attract the industries and jobs of tomorrow."

It is expected that by 2022 the size of the then-completed fab will reach 480,000 square feet. It is expected that fully one-fourth of the area will be devoted to cleanroom space, leaving ample room for future expansion.

The East Coast Silicon Carbide Corridor?

Cree has established a 30-year heritage of research and development in the "Research Triangle" of North Carolina, an area bountiful in both schools and corporate employers famous for their technical advancements. Other industry giants that are active in Durham include IBM, Eaton, and Qualcomm.

By tapping into the rich technological base of resources situated in New York’s Mohawk Valley, the company will establish what it describes as a new “silicon carbide corridor” along America’s East Coast.

Cree also plans to partner with the local community and four-year colleges in both North Carolina and New York to develop internship and training programs for present and future employees.


Is this corridor posed to turn the east coast into the next Silicon Valley? Where are you seeing the most growth for electrical engineering jobs? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.