Europe starts talks to advance micro, nanoelectronics

Article By : Peter Clarke

Five countries, together with relevant industrial partners, are actively involved in developing an Important Project of Common European Interest.

Talks on a funding project valued in the billions of euros and that could include support for European chip manufacturing are making progress, according to a senior executive with the Electronic Components and Systems for European Leadership (ECSEL).

ECSEL is a public-private partnership and secretariat that selects and funds projects of collaborative research in Europe.

Speaking at the European Nanoelectronics Forum held in Rome in November, Ben Ruck, chairman of the ECSEL public authorities board, said that five countries together with relevant industrial partners are actively involved in the development of an Important Project of Common European Interest (IPCEI) in the field of micro- and nanoelectronics.

It is not clear whether this is the same IPCEI proposed by Rutger Wijburg, general manager of the Dresden wafer fab of Globalfoundries, in his Semicon Europa keynote given in November 2015. Wijburg's aim was gain support for chip manufacturing in Europe focused around the fully-depleted silicon-on-insulator (FDSOI) process Globalfoundries is developing with support from STMicroelectronics.

Getting an investment labelled as an IPCEI can unlock large-scale public investment. According to semiconductor industry body SEMI up to 20% of an IPCEI project cost can be covered by public funds, which might otherwise be against rules on state subsidy.

In his speech in Rome, Ruck said the nanoelectronics IPCEI currently under discussion could be valued at billions of euros. However, it also seems likely that discussions have opened up the nanoelectronics IPCEI to cover support across the breadth of the nanoelectronics supply chain.

Ruck quoted European Commissioner Guenther Oettinger as saying: "This IPCEI facilitates first production of innovative future-proof energy efficient smart technologies. It is to secure that the next wave of digital products can be conceived, designed and manufactured in Europe." Ruck added: "Really, this is European industrial policy in the making."

Talks on the IPCEI are making progress and could be concluded by the end of the first quarter of 2017, a source said. That person, speaking on a condition of anonymity, said an announcement might be expected by summer 2017.

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