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BelGaN is set to build a European GaN Valley in Flanders

In the town of Oudenaarde (Flanders), the chip factory that once began as ‘Mietec’ is making a fresh start under the name ‘BelGaN’. Driven by a recent investment, the BelGaN site aims to become the heart of “a European GaN Valley”, a fast-growing and innovative ecosystem for electronics based on gallium nitride (GaN) semiconductors for applications in electric cars, data centers, smartphones, tablets and laptops, renewable energy and more. 

Carving a new path

Until February 2022, the chip factory in Oudenaarde was owned by American firm ON Semiconductor. Now, it’s going its own way under the name BelGaN. The company mainly supplies the automotive industry, which is eagerly awaiting more chips. It should therefore come as no surprise that the production lines are running at full speed. In 2020, ON Semiconductor in Oudenaarde generated a turnover of EUR 127 million. At its peak in 2006, it reached EUR 270 million. 

From silicon to gallium nitride (GaN)

Behind the investment is an interesting plan: to transition from silicon to gallium nitride (GaN). Rob Willems, general manager and VP of operations at BelGaN: “We need to find something that adds more value, and the GaN business offers just that." 

Most chips nowadays are made from silicon. Those chips are getting faster and faster and are made in increasingly expensive factories. But other types of materials can offer more opportunities. “Gallium nitride can handle larger electrical voltages than silicon,” explains Marnix Tack, CTO and VP of Business Development at BelGaN. “While silicon is an ideal material for processing data, gallium nitride excels at processing energy. That’s extremely useful, especially in the green transition.” 

Tapping into new opportunities

Gallium nitride already has a variety of applications. “Currently, the GaN market is mainly driven by cell phone chargers,” Tack explains. “We are going to tap into this market as well. Silicon-based chargers are simply not as fast and not very efficient. Chargers with gallium nitride are smaller and better. But while our first market will be phone chargers, it is not our end goal. As we continue to build up experience, we will explore industrial applications, in particular the automotive industry. We already know the automotive market very well and are working closely with a lot of key suppliers.” 

Electric cars will only increase demand for gallium nitride. Our ambition is to become a market leader in Europe in GaN technologies.

Marnix Tack
CTO and VP of Business Development at BelGaN

“GaN presents a great opportunity,” adds Robert Rickman, partner at Rockley Management. “Building a plant for the automotive market from scratch is difficult. The factory in Oudenaarde, however, already has a lot of experience in this regard. Both the management and the team know the ins and outs of production for the automotive market. What’s more, they are close to imec, Flanders’ strategic research center for nanotech and digital innovation, which develops cutting-edge GaN technology.”

Proximity as an asset

Whatever the future holds, there is a new dynamic at the Oudenaarde plant. “The market conditions are great, the technology is ready, and our people are motivated,” says Willems. “The momentum is there, and everything is starting to come together.” 

And so are the ambitions. Rickman: "We want to build a European GaN valley in Flanders. If a European company wants to experiment with GaN, BelGaN is just around the corner in a strategically located region like Flanders. The benefit of this proximity should not be underestimated now that many companies, especially those in the automotive industry, seek to shorten their supply chains.” 

Learn more about Flanders’ innovative nanochip ecosystem. 

More info

Reported by
Trends magazine
24 May 2022

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