Sept. 12--ALBANY -- The SUNY College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering will take the unprecedented step of developing of a large computer chip manufacturing site outside Utica -- a move that could mean as much as $50 billion in high-tech investment for the Mohawk Valley.
In the short run, the move takes care of a major hurdle that Oneida County officials have been unable to clear in their attempts to establish the site, which has been known as the Marcy NanoCenter next to SUNY IT in the town of Marcy.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been unwilling to issue a federal wetlands permit for the site because there has been no company yet to name as the end-user of the site -- presumably a computer chip company that would build a computer chip factory there.
Now, the NanoCollege will step in as the end-user and presumably will build a chip-fab building for a manufacturer interested in making chips at the site. It will partner with Mohawk Valley EDGE, the economic development group that has been marketing the site until now.
The model would allow a chip manufacturer the ultimate flexibility in making decisions on when to start manufacturing and how quickly it would ramp up operations.
The cost to the state would be relatively cheap. Although a chip-fab building can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, the final cost -- between $10 billion to $15 billion for the next generation of fabs -- is mostly in the manufacturing equipment that the manufacturer would acquire for the site.
The model is also similar to what China and other countries in Asia do by building fabs for companies, making decisions on where to locate manufacturing much easier and cost effective. A chip manufacturer can spend years looking for a site building out the needed infrastructure -- a process that moves much slower than the speed at which the industry must move.
The NanoCollege says the Marcy site has room for three fabs with massive 450,000 square-foot clean rooms. The fabs would be similar to the one that GlobalFoundries is planning for its second factory in Malta where it currently has one fab.
In the long run, the concept is also unique because right now, the world's largest chip companies are working in Albany at the NanoCollege developing a pilot chip manufacturing line using next-generation silicon wafers that would be more than twice the size of today's wafers, upon which hundreds of individual chips are made.
The move to the larger wafers requires new factories and new manufacturing machines -- which are being tested in the new NanoFab X building at the NanoCollege as part of the $4.8 billion Global 450 Consortium. The 450 stands for 450mm, the diameter of the new wafers. Today's wafers are 300mm.
Those companies in the consortium, which include Intel, Samsung, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., GlobalFoundries and IBM, would be able to build a 450mm fab in Marcy -- just down the road from where the technology was developed.
The concept could potentially produce a 100-mile semiconductor R&D and manufacturing corridor along the Thruway that would provide any of the world's largest chip companies everything they need to produce the latest chips -- from manufacturing concept to finished product.
The NanoCollege believes the model has been proven through its own operations in Albany where it has built semiconductor manufacturing research labs that are now home to the most important chip companies and their suppliers.
That model led to GlobalFoundries locating its Fab 8 at the Luther Forest Technology Campus in Malta, but in recent years, Luther Forest has run out of money as it has sought other tenants, despite tens of millions of dollars in state investment at the 1,400-acre site.
The state may believe that having the NanoCollege develop the Marcy site will provide some long-term stability to its development that has been lacking at Luther Forest, even though GlobalFoundries is poised to spend up to $25 billion if a second fab is built there.
Some have also speculated that 450mm fabs will be so expensive to build and operate that multiple companies could come in an operate or own a fab to share the costs and risks.
Or a company like Apple that wants tighter control of its chip manufacturing, could have an ownership stake or own the fab in partnership with others -- a model that would be easier to structure if the NanoCollege owns the building.
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