Luc Augustin, the CTO of the Eindhoven-based InP foundry Smart Photonics, holds a wafer containing photonic integrated circuits. [Image: Bart van Overbeeke, Smart Photonics / Courtesy of PhotonDelta]
A group including the Netherlands government and a suite of other organizations plans to pump €1.1 billion (US$1.16 billion) over six years into PhotonDelta, the “cross-border ecosystem” alliance working to build integrated-photonics capability in the country. The funds will be used, according to the organization, to “transform the Netherlands into the leader of next-generation semiconductors.”
The massive investment will include €470 million through the Nationaal Groeifonds (National Growth Fund), an industry investment war chest managed by the country’s Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy. The remainder of the money will come from “various partners and stakeholders,” apparently including academic institutions such as Eindhoven University of Technology, University of Twente and Delft University of Technology and a variety of private companies.
“This investment is a game changer,” Ewit Roos, PhotonDelta’s CEO, said in a press release announcing the new windfall. “It will make the Netherlands the home of the next generation of semiconductors which will have a profound impact on the whole European tech industry.”
Photonics ecosystem developer
Initially founded in 2016, PhotonDelta is an alliance currently consisting of 26 companies, 11 technology partners and 12 R&D partners. Since December 2018, it has operated under an agreement with the strategic aim of “exploiting the leading knowledge position” of the Netherlands in integrated photonics through investments in startup companies and infrastructure, the development of industry roadmaps and more. (A similar undertaking, Quantum Delta NL, focuses on advancing the Netherlands quantum technology ecosystem.)
The National Growth Fund that’s ponying up nearly half of the new €1.1 billion investment was created in 2020, with an initial allocation of €20 billion, “to bring about a sustainable increase in the earning power of the Netherlands.” The PhotonDelta investment is part of a new €5 billion push by the fund toward sustainable growth through support of 28 separate projects, ranging from green hydrogen to cancer research to “digitalization” of secondary education.
Ramping up at a time of global shortages
The new infusion of funds for PhotonDelta comes in the context of a worldwide shortage of semiconductor chips, owing to the lingering supply-chain disruptions of the pandemic and other factors. The shortage, PhotonDelta’s Roos suggested, “highlights the pressing need for Europe to create its own production capabilities for strategic technologies.”
In the six years covered by the funding, PhotonDelta plans to use the funds to invest in startup companies and scale-up existing firms, expand infrastructure, gear up training and workforce development, and “develop a world-class design library.” By 2030, according to the organization, it aims “to have created an ecosystem with hundreds of companies, serving customers worldwide and a wafer production capacity of 100,000+ per year.”
The money comes with a few minor strings attached, including the signing of a strategic agreement with a foundry partner, periodic evaluations of PhotonDelta, and an ongoing focus on applications research.
The release announcing the new funding touted the advantages of photonic integrated circuits in speeding up, and lowering the energy costs of, a variety of areas including computation and sensors. “Development of photonic tech,” PhotonDelta said, “will tackle societal challenges such as sustainability, create a new European industry, and open the door to a huge range of new applications including quantum computing.”