Europe Starts Project for Nanotech in Semiconductors

A group of Europe’s largest semiconductor companies and research centers has announced a project called NanoCMOS that will push developments in semiconductor materials, processes, architecture and interconnection through use of nanotechnology.

Participants in the project include Infineon, Philips, STMicroelectronics and European research centers and labs. The project, supported by 24 million euros (US$29.5 million) from the European Commission, will attempt to demonstrate the feasibility of smaller, 45-nanometer complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) logic technology by the end of next year.

The project also will begin aiming at smaller nanotech — 22- and 32-nanometer technology — that represents the current boundaries of present CMOS technology. A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter.

While the financial seed money provided by the European Commission pales in comparison with a comprehensive nanotech support bill worth $3.7 billion in the United States, world competition in several nanotech areas — semiconductors, biotech, electronics and materials — has allowed different regions to emerge simultaneously as leaders, Gartner analyst Jim Walker told TechNewsWorld.

“Every government has plans for a lot of nanotech research and a lot of nanotech investment,” Walker said. “The leaders depend on which area you’re talking about.”

Nanoelectronics Lead

The project’s proponents, who indicated additional partners might be incorporated into the consortium of chipmakers and laboratories in the future, said it is intended to synergize mutual efforts for strategic advantage.

Because of its objectives and committed resources that will be mobilized for a common goal, the NanoCMOS project represents a unique opportunity for Europe to become a center for nanoelectronics research while supporting academic developments in the field and helping its indigenous industrial players hone their competitive edge.

The two-year phase of the project will mobilize the consortium’s research potential, with participants investing resources to achieve the objectives of the group. A proposal for the second phase of the project will come in 2006, with focus on the 22- and 32-nanometer technologies.

Cramming the Chip

The NanoCMOS project already is proposing the integration and validation of 45-nanometer technology in an industrial 300-mm wafer manufacturing facility shared by Philips, STMicro and Motorola.

Gartner’s Walker said all of the nanoscale work in the semiconductor industry centers on cramming more and more onto smaller and smaller chips, with the ultimate goal of shrinking cell-phone-like technology to the size of a wristwatch and eventually to the size of an earpiece.

“I think what nanotech allows, which we have heard before, is the convergence of a variety of areas — biotech, electronics, manufacturing and materials,” Walker said. “It’s sort of an interaction of everything.”

Nanotech by Region

Although semiconductors are among the more visible industries putting nanoscale processes and materials to work, there is significant activity in other areas of nanotech research as well, including areas for materials used by car manufacturers and cosmetics makers.

Walker said the United States might have an edge in nanotech when it comes to semiconductors, but other regions are leading in other areas — Europe with biotechnology and Taiwan and Japan in advances in manufacturing efficiencies.

“I think the U.S. academically has some real interesting things going on,” Walker added.

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