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6 July 2015

ESSenTIAL European collaboration accelerates silicon photonics prototyping services

Imec of Leuven, Belgium and its partners have completed a three-year program (2012-2015) to leverage a variety of silicon photonics technologies by making them accessible for industry and academia worldwide.

Within the ESSenTIAL program funded by the European Commission, imec has worked with CEA-LETI of Grenoble, France, Ireland's Tyndall National Institute (based at University College Cork), VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, IHP (Innovations for High Performance Microelectronics) of Frankfurt (Oder), Germany, TNO (the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research in Delft) and CMC Microsystems of Ontario Canada to develop advanced multi-project-wafer services as well as packaging services for silicon photonics. The services were made accessible to industrial players – both small- and medium-sized companies – enabling them to test silicon photonics technology.

Silicon photonics is a key enabling technology for a wide range of markets, from optical interconnect networks in data centers to disposable biosensor chips for immunoassays. Silicon photonics builds on the technology portfolio and economy of scale of CMOS fabs to manufacture photonic integrated circuits (PICs) with a combination of passive devices – in particular wavelength- and polarization-selective devices – and active devices such as optical modulators and detectors. The ESSenTIAL program has expanded the services of ePIXfab, an alliance of European entities set up in 2006 to support the emergence of a fabless silicon photonics ecosystem. ePIXfab has provided affordable multi-project wafer (MPW) services to fabless R&D teams worldwide developing photonic circuits. European users received some benefits based on European Union (EU) funding, but the ePIXfab services were provided globally.

"ePIXfab was founded to provide the silicon photonics research community  an access path to advanced CMOS technology with the goal of sharing cost and expertise," says Ghent University professor Roel Baets, one of the founders of ePIXfab and research team leader associated with imec. "ePIXfab has helped to accelerate the field of silicon photonics and to let it move from a research field to a field of critical industrial importance," he adds.

Within the ESSenTIAL project, the portfolio of silicon photonics services offered by ePIXfab has been extended in many ways. High-speed active devices (up to 25Gb/s) were added to the MPW offering. Furthermore, ePIXfab has started to organize extra MPW runs on two silicon photonics technology platforms with unique features, at IHP and at VTT. In total, over 200 silicon photonics circuit designs were prototyped at imec, LETI, IHP or VTT, including nearly 50 designs from companies. Another major achievement of the project was the creation of silicon photonics packaging services at Tyndall. "Packaging is often seen as the Achilles heel of photonic component technology," notes Peter O'Brien, head of Tyndall's Photonics Packaging Group. "Tyndall Institute has developed a family of solutions, encompassing optical, electrical and RF packaging," he adds. "These standardized packaging approaches for silicon photonic chips are available to industry through the ePIXfab alliance."

Given the shortage of skilled engineers in silicon photonics, especially at the design level, ESSenTIAL has spent considerable resources on training activities. Over 110 experts were trained in regular six-monthly training events and several hundreds more were reached through webinars. ESSenTIAL has also conducted 80 feasibility studies with European SMEs, resulting in at least 22 new projects and over 30 project proposals.

During ESSenTIAL the MPW operation for silicon photonics was integrated into the Europractice-IC service, marking a milestone for the further growth of Europe's silicon photonics, it is reckoned. "Through the Europractice service, more than 650 European academia and 300 companies worldwide have now access to Si Photonics technologies," says Europractice service chairman Carl Das. "As we have implemented in electronics, we will offer a complete silicon photonics ecosystem to users in open access, thus accelerating product innovations," he adds. Towards this, Europractice-IC now offers periodic and low-cost access to advanced silicon photonics technologies, standardized photonics packaging and photonics design support. Further, access to Europractice-IC's silicon photonics ecosystem can be financially supported for European small- and medium-sized companies via the EU-funded project ACTPHAST (Access Center for Photonics Innovation Solutions and Technology Support). 

See related items:

Imec demos 28Gb/s silicon photonics platform for high-density, low-power WDM optical interconnects

Imec offers fully integrated silicon photonics platform via ePIXfab MPW service

Tags: Silicon photonics

Visit: www.imec.be

Visit: www.epixfab.eu/essential-project

Visit: www.actphast.eu

Visit: www.europractice-ic.com/SiPhotonics_general.php

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