Growth Fund boosts integrated photonics 

In April 2022, the Dutch government announced that in the context of the National Growth Fund a total of 1.1 billion euros will be invested in the photonics ecosystem coordinated by PhotonDelta. The aim of this consortium, of which TU/e is one of the partners, is to make the Netherlands a world leader in the next generation of semiconductors.

Eindhoven has a long history in world-class research in photonics. An important step was realized by researchers at TU/e over a decade ago with the development of a standardized approach for the production of photonic chips, the so-called foundry model. This made it possible to realize a large number of different functions with a limited number of building blocks. This concept and the technology developed by TU/e form the basis of the European photonic platform JePPIX.

The research has led to several successful spinoffs and the Brainport region has become one of the hotspots in the field of photonics. In addition, TU/e, under the leadership of emeritus professor Ton Backx, was an initiator in setting up PhotonDelta and the National Plan Integrated Photonics, which laid the foundation for the Growth Fund program.

Accelerating development

In the coming years, the Dutch government will allocate a total of 470 million euros to accelerate the development of photonics. In addition to the contribution from the National Growth Fund, more than 600 million euros has been allocated by companies and other partners, bringing the total investment in the coming years to 1.1 billion euros. This investment is part of the Dutch government's national plan to expand the country's position as a world leader in the field of integrated photonics. This fits extremely well into a broader strategy of the European Union to make Europe less dependent on chips from other parts of the world.

The program will run for six years and will enable PhotonDelta and its partners to further invest in photonic startups and scaleups, expand production and research facilities, attract and train talent, drive adoption, and develop a world-class design library. The PhotonDelta ecosystem currently consists of 26 companies, 11 technology partners and 12 R&D partners. By 2030, PhotonDelta aims to have extended this ecosystem to comprise hundreds of companies, serving customers worldwide with a wafer production capacity of 100,000+ per year.

“This grant, combined with the funding from the other partners, allows the Netherlands to play a central role in next-generation photonic technologies.”

Andrea Fiore | Full Professor 

Center of next-generation photonic technology

TU/e’s professor Andrea Fiore is delighted about this impulse: ‘This grant, combined with the funding from the other partners, allows the Netherlands to play a central role in next-generation photonic technologies. With our extensive knowledge in the field of chips built on indium phosphide, we can make an important contribution towards realizing this dream.’

Photonics uses photons (light) to transfer information. Photonic chips, also called photonic integrated circuits (PICs), integrate photonic functions into microchips to create smaller, faster and more energy-efficient devices. Just like with electronic chips, the production process is carried out using automated wafer-scale technology. This allows the chips to be mass-produced, thus reducing costs.

PICs are currently used in the data and telecom industry to reduce the energy consumption per bit and increase speeds. With data and internet use expected to be around ten percent of global electricity consumption by 2027, PICs provide a powerful way to limit the impact on the climate. Photonic circuits will also soon play an important role for innovative sensors that can be mass-produced, leading to earlier diagnostics of diseases, safe autonomous vehicles and infrastructure, and more efficient food production.

Game-changing investment

At the occasion of the announcement, Ewit Roos, CEO at PhotonDelta, elaborated on the opportunities this field offers for our country: ‘This investment is a game-changer. 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. The ongoing chip shortage highlights the pressing need for Europe to create its own production capabilities for strategic technologies. We will now be able to support hundreds of startups, researchers, producers and innovators to boost this industry that will be as impactful as the introduction of microelectronics a few decades ago. The Netherlands is considered a pioneer in the development of photonic integrated circuit technology, and thanks to the continuous support from the Dutch government, we have been able to build a full supply-chain that is globally recognized as a hotspot for photonic integration. Photonic chips are one of the most important technological breakthroughs of the last decade. Not only do they allow for the creation of devices that are faster, cheaper, more powerful and greener – they also enable radical new innovations like affordable point-of-care diagnostics or quantum computing to become a reality.’