Germany pushes for more semiconductor independence from US, China

June 23, 2020 // By Peter Clarke
Germany pushes for more semiconductor independence from US, China
The German research minister has said the country must move away from relying on China and the US for its chip development and production, according to a Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung report.

The Research Ministry has presented two new funding programs with a combined value of €45 million (about $50 million) with the aim of developing "trusted" electronics. These funds are intended to supplement existing funding programs of the Ministry of Economic Affairs for chip production and to expand the microelectronics research program.

However, the additional money is a tiny amount compared with the $22.8 billion the United States is considering earmarking in support of US chip manufacturing (see CHIPS for America Act promises $22.8 billion in aid).

Nonetheless, under the so-called Zuse program the German ministry of research plans to support three processor development projects with €25 million. In addition from the beginning of 2021, a further €20 million will be used for the development of a "trusted ecosystem" into which domestic hardware and software components are to be integrated.

It is not clear how much of this will be performed at a Germany-only level and how much will be done under co-operation within the European Union. A number of initiatives with this theme have already emerged. Globalfoundries, a US-headquartered foundry company with a fab in Dresden, was granted "trusted" European status recently (see NXP helps GloFo gain European trusted manufacturing status). Also a small German company Cologne Chip AG has developed a family of field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) that are manufactured at the Dresden wafer fab (see Low-cost European FPGA launched with IPCEI support).

This form of local design, development and manufacturing approach to integrated circuits may indicate what German is seeking to extend under Zuse. Nonetheless Europe relies on a great deal of US-origin EDA software and chip manufacturing equipment. And European chip companies have largely dropped out of manufacturing leading-edge digital chips preferring to adopt a so-called fab-lite strategy. The most advanced wafer fabs for digital chip production in Europe owned by Intel in Ireland and Globalfoundries in Germany.

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