A partnership between CEA-Leti and Fraunhofer Group is aimed at funding—not just for themselves but for the microelectronics industry in their regions—from each of their national governments.
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The upshot in the mind of Leti CEO Marie-Noëlle Semeria is that by selecting these foci, “We can escape from the race of miniaturisation. Europe can lead in IoT by leveraging our own very good assets.”
FDSOI is the digital platform where different technologies—sensors, RF, ultra-low-power memories, energy-efficient digital and analog-mixed signal processing designs—are going to be built, she said.
Meanwhile, Europe is armed with a spectrum of sensor technologies that range from mechanical to imaging and optical sensors. Europe sees sensors as increasingly critical for the automotive industry and IoT. “IoT relies on sensors,” Semeria stressed.
Power electronics is also essential in products like autonomous vehicles. “We currently have silicon carbide [at Infineon], but we are developing Gallium arsenide as the next-generation power electronics,” she said.
Winners and losers?
But wait. Does this mean that European governments are now in the business of choosing winners and losers in microelectronics?
Carlo Reita, director of technical marketing and strategy for nanoelectronics at CEA Leti, told EE Times, “No, that is not the case.” These chosen technologies are areas where European companies are already strong in the global market, he explained. The government isn’t picking technology agendas. “It’s the industry who is pushing them, and we are supporting them,” Reita said.
Each pillar already has an industry champion, or champions. For FDSOI, the leaders are Soitec, STMicroelectronics and Globalfoundries. For power electronics, it’s Infineon. In sensors, Bosch is the undisputed champ. However, compound semiconductors, billed as the fourth pillar, face an unclear future due to the Brexit decision. The technology was originally advocated by an unnamed U.K.-based compound semiconductor company. Some speculated that it might be IQE (Cardiff, Wales).
How much money will be involved?
Although the transnational project is yet to be certified by the EU, the German government has already appropriated a ₹6,799.48 crore ($1 billion) budget to modernise equipment and capabilities at Germany-based microelectronics companies.
This explains the surprising announcement last week by Bosch to make a ₹7,141.33 crore (€1 billion) investment to build a wafer fab in Dresden, Germany. Separately, Globalfoundries is plunging ₹12,140.26 crore (€1.7 billion) into its own fab. Other signals include Infineon beefing up its 300mm power electronics fab in Dresden.
Germany alone will end up spending ₹35,706.63 crore to ₹42,847.96 crore (€5 to €6 billion) to promote the microelectronics industry, explained Fraunhofer’s Lakner.
In contrast, the French government hasn’t yet provided specific funding to support France-based microelectronics companies. Semeria, however, doesn’t seem too worried. The French government will participate in this European project of common interest along with Germany, Italy and Austria, she explained.
Working with Fraunhofer, Semeria is also confident that both research institutes and industry partners will receive the IPCEI nod from the EU.
Lakner noted that the project isn’t aimed just at device manufacturers. The ultimate goal is that, by keeping device manufacturers local, Europe will be able to climb the value chain, advance their systems and develop the best software and hardware. “Remember, automotive is no longer just about selling cars. It is about offering ‘mobility,’” he noted.
Asked about the Germany’s budget, Lakner explained that 85% of the national budget will be used for capital expenditures. The balance will go to creating demonstrators and defining pilot programmes at research institutes.
IMEC–a missing piece?
IMEC (Leuven, Belgium) is another big microelectronics research organisation in Europe, but it’s not a part of this Leti-Fraunhofer agreement. Reporters asked why.
Semeria noted that IMEC’s business model and research directions—driven more by corporations participating from different parts of the world—diverge from that of the CEA-Leti partnership.
As a public company, “Leti still needs to answer to the government and meet the expectations of the local industry,” she explained.
Lakner blamed the absence of IMEC—and the Belgian government’s decision not to participate in the transnational project—on complex, political reasons which he said, “I don’t even know how to explain.”
Figure 1: Leti's 50th anniversary was celebrated at Minatec—a hub for the development of micro-nano technologies in Grenoble—launched by a partnership between Leti and Grenoble Institute of Technology. (Source: EE Times)
EE Times spoke to many European engineers and researchers who gathered at Leti’s 50th anniversary in Grenoble during its gala, and asked what they thought about Semeria’s speaking out on “economic and strategic sovereignty” in Europe.
Many acknowledged that the “sovereignty” idea has surfaced in the European consciousness over the last 12 months. They are recognising it as a great challenge for Europe. Many made no apologies for this trend toward Eurocentrism and stressed that it’s about time to make Europe strong again.
Semeria concluded, “Innovation is a worldwide race. And that’s why we need to work with the world’s leaders.” But she added that Europe should guard its own innovations—and its autonomy—a little more jealously. “We need to maintain innovation, advance in technology and catch the opportunity by keeping our manufacturing capabilities,” she said.
First published by EE Times U.S.