September 23, 2011
By: Larry Rulison and Chris Churchill, Business Writers
Source: Times Union
ALBANY -- The massive building now rising amid a shroud of secrecy at the University at Albany's nanotech complex is part of a major push by the semiconductor industry to develop the next generation of computer chip manufacturing.
School officials have refused to discuss the project even as the frame of the complex takes shape after months of work. The school never held a groundbreaking, released design details or disclosed the cost of the project -- or its source of funding.
But while public discussion of the intent and scope of the project has been muted, it remains a highly ambitious effort to change the way the microprocessors are made. If the venture succeeds, it will place Albany at the center of the worldwide semiconductor industry.
Renderings and other documents obtained by the Times Union show a dramatic, 500,000-square-foot structure that will nearly double the size of the existing College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering campus. The project, to be built in two phases, is rising opposite Washington Avenue Extension from the existing campus.
Officials from Sematech, the computer chip research consortium headquartered at the NanoCollege, have touted the expansion to insiders in recent months, describing the effort to move the industry from making chips on 12-inch, or 300 millimeter silicon wafers, to 18-inch, or 450 millimeter wafers.
The move could revolutionize the way chips are made by drastically reducing costs while increasing output.
A small-scale 450mm research program has been operated by the International Sematech Manufacturing Initiative, a Sematech program that has received millions of dollars in state funding. NanoCollege officials called it a "limited seed program" only two months ago.
But presentations made at semiconductor conferences around the world by Sematech CEO Dan Armbrust and Paolo Gargini, director of technology strategy at chip giant Intel Corp., show that the 450mm program is poised to grow significantly here.
The focal point is a 45,000-square-foot clean room being built as part of the first phase of the NanoCollege project, which is located on an 11-acre, state-owned parcel between Interstate 90 and Washington Avenue Extension.
Gargini showed numerous photos of the Albany construction project in July at SemiconWest, an annual conference held each year in San Francisco for companies that make computer chip manufacturing equipment, also known as "tools."
Jonathan Davis, an executive with SEMI, the trade group that organizes the conference, said Gargini's presentation was "intended to bolster confidence in the seriousness of efforts to proceed with 450mm" research and development.
Neither Armbrust nor Gargini could be reached for comment.
Officials have only said the project will include space for "green energy" research and a federally funded solar manufacturing research consortium announced back in April.
School spokesman Steve Janack has repeatedly declined to answer questions about the new building, which is called NanoFab X or NanoFab West in some renderings.
"Is this the story du jour?" Janack asked Thursday, referring to previous Times Union articles seeking to describe the construction and its purpose.
Renderings presented by Armbrust, Gargini and others show that a similarly sized, 250,000-square-foot building built closer to Fuller Road and dedicated to clean energy research would be part of a second phase of construction.
The buildings would be connected by a giant glass rotunda, renderings show, and a pedestrian bridge would rise over Washington Avenue Extension and connect the old campus with the new. (The county is planning to move the roadway to the north in 2012, allowing for a contiguous NanoCollege campus.)
EYP Architecture and Engineering is the project's designer. The firm, which is based at the college's $7 billion campus, in promotional materials touts the first building as being designed for the "most sophisticated next generation computer chip manufacturing tool in the world."
Renderings and some other details about the nanofab project were obtained from various industry websites. None were provided by the NanoCollege.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office did not return a call seeking comment