There is a certain poetry in it: Eindhoven started its growth more than a hundred years ago as the home of first the match and then the light bulb. It earned the city the title ‘City of Light’. Will the city also become the home of the light chip in the 21st century? Experts see that happening.
According to PhotonDelta, the photonics hub on the High Tech Campus, this opportunity certainly exists and could potentially create hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs. In the future, the Netherlands will try to acquire about twenty percent of the world market for photonics chips. Eindhoven, therefore, seems to be the appropriate place as a home port for the photonics industry.
What is photonics?
Photonics is a technique in which information transfer no longer takes place with electrical signals, but with light signals sent by lasers. Thanks to technology, computer chips may in the future work a thousand times faster than they do now and become much more energy-efficient.
“Getting half of the global photonics market is beautiful, but ambitious” PhotonDelta
The photonics hub received a hefty investment of 1.1 billion euros at the beginning of this year. That money came partly from the Dutch government and partly from private parties. But there is also another player that wants to bet big on the chip industry: the European Union.
Because of Covid on the one hand and rising international tensions on the other, Brussels found out that Europe was starting to lag in the production and development of computer chips. This seems a shame when chips for all kinds of things, from cars to medical equipment, are becoming increasingly important. That is why the so-called EU Chip Act was announced so that there is at least one large chip factory on the European mainland that can produce the latest chips.
That factory will not come to the Netherlands but to Germany – something that will have no consequences for the high-tech industry in the region. For the Brainport region, there may be something else beautiful in the offing.
In that context, a round table discussion was held in The Hague at the beginning of May, where all parties with expertise in the field of chip development took part. One of them, former ASML CEO Frits van Hout, was the most outspoken. The Netherlands had to aim for fifty percent of the global chip market.
Van Hout was not referring to the market for current electronic chips, but the future market for photonic chips. The Netherlands – and Eindhoven in particular – is a frontrunner in this regard.
At PhotonDelta, they do not hide their ambitions either. “Getting 50 percent of the globally integrated photonics market is beautiful, but ambitious,” it sounds like. The group itself is committed to 20 percent of chip production. “We are committed to finding a niche, and becoming the best in it so that the world needs us.”
“Thanks to Smart Photonics, their suppliers and customers, and the TU/e, Brainport is a very suitable place for the production of photonics chips” PhotonDelta
The plan of approach to achieve that market share of twenty percent is also clear. “We want to build a centrally coordinated factory in the Netherlands to focus the European chip production in the Netherlands. Several types of chips can be produced in such a factory. It is not yet known who will build that factory, or where it will be located.”
Light chip factory
However, there is a good chance that such a light chip factory will be located in the Brainport region. “With specialised production partners of PhotonDelta, you can see that a location with many suppliers in the area, such as Brainport, offers advantages.”
PhotonDelta points to Smart Photonics, which already has a small factory on the High Tech Campus. It is the only factory of its kind in Europe. “Through the activities of Smart Photonics, their suppliers and customers, and the TU/e, Brainport is a very suitable place for Smart Photonics to carry out its production.”
The current plan is to increase the total photonic chip production in the Netherlands by 2030 to a production capacity of more than 100,000 wafers (the plates on which the chips are made, ed.) per year.
However, the arrival of a large photonics chip factory in Brabant is not a foregone conclusion. There is also a cluster of players active in the light chip industry in Twente, including the University of Twente and LioniX International. It has therefore not yet been decided where exactly the factory will be located. “After all, PhotonDelta is a Dutch initiative”, it is said.
Source : Studio040