Industrial technologies - Establishing a strategic research agenda for nanoelectronics

July 15, 2004

Brussels, 14 Jul 2004

Large-scale research funding is crucial to ease the transition from micro- to nanoelectronics, according to a report from leading industrial and research organisations. Coordinated public-private investment of €6 billion a year is essential to ensure European leadership.

Publication of the high level group Vision 2020: Nanoelectronics at the centre of change [845 Kb] report in June 2004 has set the scene for the launch of the European Nanoelectronics Initiative Advisory Council (ENIAC), supported jointly by the European Commission Research and Information Society DGs. The objective of this public-private partnership is to spell out a strategic research agenda for Europe in this key sector based on the 2020 vision that would become the main roadmap for all parties involved in the development of the relevant technologies.

"Nanotechnology is the most important technology of all for the electronics industry," insists Pasquale Pistorio, president and CEO of leading European semiconductor manufacturer STMicroelectronics, who has been asked by the Commission to chair ENIAC. "Only 20 years ago, Europe saw electronics as a dying industry but this changed through the efforts of the ESPRIT, JESSI and MEDEA programmes. There are now three European companies in the top ten worldwide – then there was only Philips. However, the challenge is immense from the USA, Japan, Taiwan and particularly China."

"Nanoelectronics is a strategic sector for Europe, with a potential for creating a significant number of highly skilled jobs, and boosting growth and competitiveness in most other industrial sectors," says Enterprise and Information Society Commissioner Erkki Liikanen.

"Leading the transition to nanoelectronics is a challenge that requires our best researchers to work together," adds Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. "Smaller and more functional electronic components help people to be creative and participate fully in the knowledge society."

Facing up to global competition

Microelectronics is a key enabling technology for almost all industries and has grown by some 15% a year over the past three decades. Current investment in electronics accounts for 30% of overall industrial investment in the developed world. And the worldwide annual market for electronics at nearly €800 billion is now bigger even than the global automotive market. Adding in the many other industries dependent on electronics – from telecommunications, Internet services and consumer products, to the defence and aerospace industries – results in a global market of some €5 000 billion.

Europe has an important place in the world electronics market with three major European semiconductor manufacturers (STMicroelectronics, Infineon and Philips Semiconductors) figuring in the global top ten for the last ten years. This success has been built in part on European-level research actions from the Commission ESPRIT programme to the EUREKA JESSI, MEDEA and now MEDEA+ project clusters.

The electronics industry generates the type of highly skilled employment essential for the future social and economic well-being of Europe. Nanoelectronics now offers the European electronics sector – from the chipmakers with their equipment and materials suppliers, to the large set of related industries, such as design houses, systems builders and integrators – the opportunity of becoming an even more significant generator of highly skilled jobs.

However, global competition is fierce with widespread state support in both the USA and Asia Pacific. Each new generation of technology requires a steep increase in the level of investment needed for research, and for new design and production facilities. Maintaining Europe's current leadership requires keeping leading-edge technologies and intellectual property in the EU. This can only be guaranteed by retaining and fostering a high-value domestic manufacturing capability in the Union.

Unlocking new opportunities

Identifying 'killer' applications as far ahead as 2020 is unrealistic, given the high pace of innovation. But new products and systems using nanoelectronics can be envisaged in the areas of ambient intelligence, nano-scale medical diagnostics and treatment, cleaner and safer transport, and anti-terrorism and security applications.

Since the introduction of the first integrated circuits in the 1960s, the dimensions of elements such as transistor gates on a semiconductor chip have shrunk by a factor of 10 000, with hundreds of millions of such elements now integrated in a single electronic component. The cost of 1 GB of memory has decreased by 1.5 million times and a single optical fibre can now carry tens of thousands of transatlantic telephone conversations.

Experts predict similar rates of improvement in the coming years, meaning European industry will have to continue to face up to rapid change. Complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology will no doubt continue to dominate mainstream applications for some time to come. But alternatives or complements, such as spin electronics, molecular electronics and quantum computing, offer promising new concepts.

The main trends for nanoelectronics are set out in the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS). This is a global co-operative effort involving 4 000 industrial experts in electronic circuit manufacturers (together with their equipment and materials suppliers), research centres, universities and end-users to obtain consensus on industry drivers, requirements and timelines for new technology introduction. It is essential that European industry and research organisations both keep up with and influence this roadmap.

Investing in a knowledge-based Europe

The nanoelectronics industry is already making a vital contribution to meeting the challenge set by the European Council in Lisbon for the Union to become the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy by 2010. However, research is crucial to help companies stay in the race – and the major European electronics companies already reinvest 20% of their turnover in research.

Over the past ten years, EU and EUREKA research programmes have supported large-scale efforts to bring micro-/nanoelectronics research in Europe to the same level as that of competitors worldwide. Europe now needs to maintain and further develop its high-technology know-how. Given the steep rise in costs involved and the scarcity of funds available, strongly increased coordination between industrial, national and European levels of investment is essential.

Large-scale funding for strategic priorities is necessary to permit coherent collaborative research, avoiding inconsistencies and overlap between current national programmes. Financial resources to develop nanoelectronics technologies in Europe over the next five years should be doubled from the current €3 billion a year to €6 billion: €2 billion a year for upstream research and infrastructures, and €4 billion a year for downstream industrial R&D.

Substantial public support will be needed to leverage the required level of private investment. This can involve Member States contributing directly through inter-governmental, national and regional programmes – including funding the necessary multidisciplinary education and training – and European funds such as the Framework Programme and Structural Funds. There is also a need for a technology-aware banking sector able to identify, accept and balance out risk to support funding for new R&D projects and financing of research and production facilities.

A vision for Europe

European pre-eminence in nanoelectronics depends upon establishing a European strategic research agenda with a 2020 horizon, in co-operation with the EU, Member States, industry and academia, to establish priorities, avoid duplication and reach a critical mass of coherent effort. It requires stronger coordination of the work plans of the EU Framework Programmes, the pan-European EUREKA MEDEA+ programme and national programmes. And it needs a well-trained multidisciplinary workforce.

To enable Europe to achieve world leadership and maintain high-value-added, next-generation production processes, the development of a pre-competitive Technology Platform for nanoelectronics will be pursued urgently to support the high level group vision:

  • A competitive supply chain with no major missing links;
  • A research environment and infrastructure capable of supporting visionary and industrially relevant research activities;
  • Strategic public-private partnerships in which strong user industries share their long-term visions with research partners and mobilise a critical mass of resources;
  • A favourable legal and financial environment; and
  • An education system delivering a skilled, multidisciplinary research, design and production workforce.

Such a Technology Platform will bring together all relevant European stakeholders to realise a long-term vision for the development of key scientific and technological areas while addressing major social, economic and environmental challenges. And it will result in the development and implementation of a strategic research agenda and creation of the action plans needed to realise the vision.

Strong Commission support

Setting up ENIAC is the first response by the European Commission Information Society and Research DGs to the high level group. By drawing up and implementing a Strategic Research Agenda for the next decades for all nanoelectronics stakeholders, ENIAC will help determine future research and innovation priorities necessary to support the development of a truly competitive nanoelectronics industry in Europe. Effective mechanisms are also being put in place to ensure adequate co-ordination between the relevant stakeholders.

A wide range of European policies – from competition, trade, industry and environment to intellectual property rights and education – may interact with ENIAC. Similarly ENIAC should influence information society and research policy development.

Nanoelectronics was included in the Commission's initial list of eight 'Quick start' programme projects presented to the European 'competitiveness' council in November 2003. And the Commission is already encouraging FP6 projects in the nanoelectronics sector through joint calls between the information society and industrial technologies thematic priorities.

The second joint call between Thematic Priorities 2 and 3, published on 15 June 2004 and due to close on 14 October 2004, has a balanced joint budget of €180 million for Integrated Projects (IPs), Specific Targeted Research Projects (STREPs) and Specific Support Actions (SSAs). This is to be spread evenly between three specific areas involving nanoelectronics:

  • Integrating technologies for the fast and flexible manufacturing enterprise;
  • Bio-sensors for diagnosis and healthcare; and
  • Materials, equipment and processes for production of nano-photonic and nano-electronic devices.

DG Research
http://europa.eu.int/comm/dgs/research/i ndex_en.html
Item source: http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/indus trial_technologies/articles/article_13 _en.html

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