Belgian wafer fab sold to GaN startup with China connections

Belgian wafer fab sold to GaN startup with China connections

Business news |
By Peter Clarke

On Semiconductor’s silicon wafer fab at Oudenaarde, Belgium, has been sold to startup BelGaN Group BV (Mechelen, Belgium) for conversion to gallium nitride production for automotive and other power applications.

BelGaN Group (Mechelen, Belgium) was founded under CEO Alan Zhou – an experienced semiconductor executive – apparently with the purpose of buying out the fab. The fab had been on the market for two years (see Amid weak results On Semi puts fab up for sale). BelGaN was formed on September 30, 2021, as a joint venture between Rockley Management (HK) Ltd. and Wuxi Group Ltd., both of Hong Kong.

Rockley Group is a venture capital and advisory firm based in Oxford, England and Shanghai, China.

BelGaN has recruited senior managers from the On Semiconductor Oudenaarde operation and is retaining the more than 400 staff employed at the site. BelGaN is also looking to recruit additional engineers and operators with 15 full-time positions listed on its website.

The details of the acquisition deal have not been disclosed although in its 4Q21 financial results filing On Semiconductor noted that: “On October 1, 2021, we divested one of our businesses along with the related intellectual property for aggregate consideration of approximately $13.6 million.” It also commented in the filing that it had completed the divestiture of its Oudenaarde wafer fab on February 8, 2022.

Plans for 200mm wafers

It was also not disclosed if BelGaN has a contract to provide legacy silicon production back to On Semiconductor and how long that might last or how it might taper. Silicon foundry capability is listed on the BelGaN website.

The fab has been running mixed-signal CMOS and BCD processes down to 0.35 micron on 6-inch wafers in a 4,300 square meter clean room. However, On Semiconductor had previously joined a GaN-on-Si research program operated by research institute IMEC (Leuven, Belgium). The fab’s manufacturing capacity is 100,000 mask layers per week and there is scope to increase clean room area by another 1,600 square meters, according to the company’s website.

In a statement BelGaN said it aims to become a leading foundry for GaN automotive semiconductors in Europe manufacturing on 150mm and 200mm-diameter wafers. BelGaN added that it aims to develop an ecosystem in Europe, and beyond, for GaN-based chips and power electronics with applications, amongst others, in electric vehicles, mobile electronics, and the industrial, data centre and renewable energy markets.

“After starting my career in Bell Labs with a Doctoral Fellowship 30 years ago, I have witnessed the success and growth of Silicon Valley by commercializing Bell Labs inventions,” said Zhou, CEO of BelGaN, in the same statement. He added: “I envision an opportunity of a lifetime to build the ‘GaN Valley’ in Belgium by leveraging IMEC’s next generation GaN power device innovations with BelGaN team’s more than 10 years of GaN technologies development and more than 30 years of automotive semiconductor manufacturing experiences.”

Zhou experience

Zhou, recently served as managing partner of An Xin Capital, LLP, a billion dollar Chinese-based private equity firm focused on global semiconductor M&A investment. Prior to that Zhou was Qualcomm vice president responsible for design wins and sales in China. Earlier in his career. while working at AT&T Bell Labs, Lucent Microelectronics and Agere Systems, he was a managing director in China. Zhou received his PhD And MSc degrees in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT.

Current plans for BelGaN include both e-mode and d-mode HEMT GaN-on-Si for a variety of voltage- and power-ranges, and monolithic GaN IC technologies aimed at consumer-, industrial- and automotive- quality levels.

Marnix Tack, CTO and vice president of business development at BelGaN, has spent more than 20 years associated with the Oudenaarde site while working for previous owners Alcatel Microelectronics and On Semi. “GaN is a new generation of semiconductor material for power devices that enables more energy-efficient and faster charging, higher power density and greater energy savings for mobile, industrial, electrical vehicle and renewable energy markets. The global market for GaN power chips is currently estimated at around $100 million per year and is expected to accelerate to more than $1 billion per year within the next 5 years,” said Tack, in the statement.

Rob Willems, general manager and vice president of operations for BelGaN, also has extensive experience at Oudenaarde under On Semi. “We are proud to announce the start of BelGaN, a new and exciting chapter in the history of our semiconductor company in Belgium. The 400+ current employees will remain on board. In addition, BelGaN is planning to expand and hire a variety of extra profiles from operators to engineers. GaN power chips will be a game changer in the electric automotive and many other sectors and an important step towards a more sustainable future.”

Related links and articles:

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Chinese startup comes west with GaN-on-Si offer

Rockley signs up to use SkyWater BEOL

Nexperia’s Toni Versluijs takes questions on the Newport deal

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