Europe will try to rebuild semiconductor capability using pandemic recovery funds
A 2025 time line is being set for Europe to come up with its own leading-edge processor chips with a “significant improvement in energy performance and speed,” to quote from a joint declaration.
So far Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands and twelve other countries have signed up to bolster Europe’s electronics and embedded systems value chain. This will include a particular effort to reinforce the processor and semiconductor ecosystem to address security issues. The United Kingdom is the notable exception from the list but it has already left the European Union and is on the brink of leaving its transitionary period at the end of 2020.
The joint-declaration comes after the European Union and individual nations have already been making some moves in this area (see Germany pushes for more semiconductor independence from US, China, European processor startup gets €6.2 million kickstart grant and Low-cost European FPGA launched with IPCEI support). With the signing of the joint declaration the movement appears to be gaining momentum.
And the impetus for the movement is security of supply after a year in which problems of supply chain fragiity have been seen after decades of globalization.
Europe bought less than 10 percent of the world’s semiconductor output in 2019 – $39.82 billion out of global sales of $412.31 billion (see WSTS raises chip market forecast for 20/21). However, in terms of manufacturing of chips Europe runs a massive deficit, especially at the leading-edge
As long ago as 2014 Europe’s presence in 300mm wafer chip manufacturing was 2 percent by ownership and less than 1 percent by location (see Europe’s 300mm IC manufacturing falls below 1% of world output). At the same time South Korea and Taiwan – with the likes of Samsung and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. – hosted 50 percent of the 300mm wafer capacity in aggregate. The situation will have deteriorated over the following years and the vulnerability of global supply chains has been highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Next: How much money?
The money for the joint initiative will come from EU and national pandemic recovery funds, a fifth of which is already earmarked to support a digital transition within Europe. This could be worth up to €145 billion over the next two or three years, the joint declaration said.
The signatories have agreed to establish advanced European chip design capabilities and production facilities to progress towards leading-edge nodes – such as 2nm – for data processing and connectivity. As that capability is lost in Europe re-acquiring it will take several years and the cost would easily be tens of billions of euros.
Nonetheless, the joint declaration states that there is a new geopolitical reality with major regions reinforcing their local semiconductor ecosystems with a view to avoiding excessive dependencies on imports.
“To ensure Europe’s technology sovereignty and competitiveness, as well as our capacity to address key environmental and societal challenges and new emerging mass markets, we need to strengthen Europe’s capacity to develop the next-generation of processors and semiconductors,” the signatories assert.
The initiative has a broad scope. It aimed at designing and manufacturing trusted, low-power processors in Europe, for applications in high-speed connectivity, automated vehicles, aerospace and defence, health and food production, artificial intelligence, data-centres, integrated photonics, supercomputing and quantum computing.
The method will be to build on existing collective effort including those in high performance computing (HPC), the European Processor Initiative and the existing IPCEI (Important Project of Common Europen Interest) on microelectronics. There is a plan to develop a European Flagship IPCEI that would allow increased subsidy of commercial operations.
The joint declaration concluded: “This opportunity to invest in research, design and production capability for processors in Europe should not be missed.”
The move was welcomed by the European Commission and other member states were invited to join the project.
The full list of national signatories is Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands, Spain, Estonia, Greece, Croatia, Malta, Portugal; Slovenia, Finland, Romania, Austria, Slovakia and Cyprus.
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