CATANIA, Italy - The European Commission on Friday approved Italian state aid for chipmaker STMicroelectronics to build a 5 billion euro ($5.4 billion) plant in Catania, Sicily, to make specialist microchips that boost energy efficiency in electric cars.

Having a large, integrated European plant making and packaging the silicon carbide chips will have "wide positive effects for the European semiconductor ecosystem" and help to guarantee regional security of supply, a commission statement said.

"The Catania campus will help reverse the tendency of overreliance on imports of devices that are particularly relevant for the European digital and green transition objectives, the Commission said, approving 2 billion euros in aid from Italy.

STMicro is the largest maker of silicon carbide chips, which are more expensive to manufacture than regular silicon chips but favoured by carmakers because they are energy-efficient, lightweight and tough. STMicro's top customers include Tesla , BYD, BMW and Renault.

($1 = 0.9241 euros)

(Reporting by Toby Sterling Additional reporting by Diana Mandia and Tassilo Hummel Editing by David Goodman )