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19 September 2008


HELIOS hybrid photonics project awarded €8.5m funding

Earlier this month, the European Commission (EC) granted €8.5m ($12m) to the four-year project HELIOS (pHotonics ELectronics functional Integration on CMOS) to support its aim of finding an innovative way to use microelectronics fabrication processes to combine a compound semiconductor photonic layer with CMOS silicon circuitry.

As a project within the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) theme of the 7th Framework Programme (FP7), HELIOS began in May and brings together 19 European partners: project coordinator CEA-LETI as well as CNRS, Alcatel Thales III-V lab, Thales, University of Paris-Sud, 3S Photonics and Photline Technologies in France, IMEC in Belgium, Phoenix BV in The Netherlands, IHP and the University of Berlin in Germany, Austriamicrosystems AG and the University of Vienna in Austria, IMM and the University of Trento in Italy, the University of Valencia, the University of Barcelona and DAS Photonics in Spain, and the University of Surrey in UK. The overall project cost is €12m.

CMOS photonics is being pursued as a way to improve a system's performance while also reducing size and cost in a range of applications, such as optical communications, optical interconnections between semiconductor chips and circuit boards, optical signal processing, optical sensing, and biological applications.

Previous research projects have demonstated basic CMOS photonics building blocks (a micro-laser, a detector, coupler and link). As the next step in the process, HELIOS proposes to integrate photonics components with ICs to enable an integrated design and fabrication method that can be used by EU-based manufacturers.

The project’s objectives include:

  • developing high-performance generic building blocks for a broad range of applications (e.g. wavelength division multiplexing sources via heterogeneous integration of III-Vs and silicon, fast modulators and detectors, passive circuits and packaging);
  • building and optimizing a complete production chain for fabricating complex functional devices that integrate electronics and photonics in a single chip (to be addressed not only at the process level but also by developing an adequate design environment);
  • demonstrating the power of this production chain by fabricating complex photonic ICs addressing different needs (including a 40Gb/s modulator, a 10 x 10Gb/s transceiver, a photonic QAM-10Gb/s wireless transmission system, and a mixed analog and digital transceiver module for multifunction antennas).
  • investigating some more promising, but challenging, alternative approaches, such as silicon lasers and amorphous silicon modulators, which offer CMOS integration advantages for the next generation of CMOS photonic ICs;
  • roadmapping, dissemination and training, to strengthen European research and industry in this field and to raise the awareness of CMOS photonics.

The HELIOS project's overall aim is to make CMOS photonics integration technologies accessible to to a broad range of users via a foundry-like, fabless approach so that, long term, IC manufacturers can use photonics libraries and IP blocks and integrate them into their circuit design.

IMEC and CEA-LETI extend ePIXfab silicon photonics prototyping service with PhotonFAB

Microelectronics research center IMEC of Leuven, Belgium and CEA-LETI of Grenoble, France have launched the joint initiative PhotonFAB, a continuation of their existing ePIXfab multi-project wafer silicon photonics prototyping service started in 2006 to offer a cost-effective way for researchers and SMEs (small- and medium-sized enterprises) to develop photonic integrated circuits in silicon. Co-funded by the European Union through the 7th Framework Program (FP7) and coordinated by IMEC, ePIXfab aims to reduce the large barriers for access to and market take-up of silicon photonics technology by focusing on reduced cost, risk and design effort, education, and roadmapping.

ePIXfab has been started as the silicon photonics platform within the framework of ePIXnet, the FP6 Network of Excellence on photonic integrated components and circuits. The silicon platform is one of the six technology platforms in ePIXnet (which has two other integration technology platforms - for InP circuits and for nanostructuring - accompanied by three supporting platforms on packaging, high-speed characterisation and modelling).

ePIXfab organizes shuttle (multi-project wafer) fabrication runs with IMEC and LETI wafer-scale technologies, including 193nm deep-UV lithography-based processes. Since 2006, over 25 academic and SME groups have been able to develop IC technology in a fabless way with reduced costs, by joining many IC designs in a single fabrication run.

Now, to enable a broader market take-up of silicon photonic IC technology, the ePIXfab service is being extended by the new three-year project PhotonFAB (Silicon Photonic IC Fabless Access Broker) to include a more extensive technology portfolio, new design libraries, education and training for the clients, a shuttle service roadmap and a more streamlined operation. Dedicated prototyping and small-volume manufacturing is also possible based on IMEC or LETI technology.

Funded by the EU as a FP7 Support Action, PhotonFAB should hence lower the design effort, risk and bare costs for clients. In addition, clients from countries fully associated to the FP7 program will be able to obtain additional cost reductions for the shuttle service and training activities.

ePIXfab has organized two information sessions on its fabrication service and the PhotonFAB project: one at the IEEE Group IV Photonics conference in Sorrento, Italy this week (17-19 September) and a second at the European Conference and Exhibition on Optical Communication (ECOC 2008) in Brussels, Belgium next week (21-25 September).

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