15 June 2023
X-FAB leads EU-funded photonixFAB project to industrialize European silicon photonics value chain
Analog/digital (mixed-signal) integrated circuit, micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS) and specialty semiconductor foundry X-FAB Silicon Foundries SE of Tessenderlo, Belgium is spearheading a strategic initiative aiming to enable the European semiconductor and photonics industries to gain greater sovereignty, strengthening the continent’s manufacturing capabilities in key emerging areas. The photonixFAB project aims to empower photonics innovation by small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and large entities by providing low-barrier access to both low-loss silicon nitride (SiN)- and silicon-on-insulator (SOI)-based photonics platforms with indium phosphide (InP) and lithium niobate-on-insulator (LNO) heterogenous integration capabilities.
The photonixFAB consortium consists of major public and private enterprises, plus research institutes – all focusing on the development and production of next-generation silicon photonics. The partners include technology and manufacturing service providers LIGENTEC, SMART Photonics, PHIX Photonics Assembly and Luceda Photonics plus application developers Nokia, NVIDIA, Aryballe, Brolis Sensor Technology and PhotonFirst, as well as the research organizations CEA-Leti and IMEC.
The objective is to establish a European photonics device value chain and initial industrial manufacturing capabilities, providing a path to scalable high-volume manufacturing for innovative product developers.
The photonixFAB consortium will span a comprehensive set of photonics foundry and assembly capabilities, including:
- industry-scale silicon photonics manufacturing services with low entry barriers and fast turnaround times for both low-loss SiN- and SOI-based photonic integrated circuits (PICs);
- enablement of micro-transfer printing and direct bonding technologies for InP, LNO and germanium-based active and passive component heterogeneous integration on SiN- and SOI-based PIC platforms.
- development of scalable packaging and testing solutions in alignment with the (heterogeneous) PIC platform developments.
- process design kit (PDK)-based design automation enablement for the photonic platforms.
As a part of the project, six demonstrators are being built to validate the implemented photonics value chains. These include applications such as datacom and optical switches, a coherent optical transceiver, an infrared (IR) spectrometer for sensing, a digital olfaction sensor for consumer healthcare and a health monitoring demonstrator.
Prospective opportunities for photonic devices fabricated via the photonixFAB project have already been identified, including data communications, telecoms, biomedical sensors/detectors, quantum computing and vehicle LiDAR (light detection and ranging).
“Seeing huge potential emerging there, traditional semiconductor vendors, OEMs and start-ups are all now exploring photonic-enabled applications,” says X-FAB’s CEO Rudi De Winter. “Consequently, this is the right time for companies to work together on building an extensive Europe-centric silicon photonics ecosystem that will help drive the continent’s competitiveness in this exciting new market.”
The project is being supported by the Key Digital Technologies Joint Undertaking (KDT JU), with funding from the European Union (EU), under grant agreement no. 101111896, plus top-up funding from national authorities in Belgium, Germany, France, Israel, Italy, The Netherlands and Switzerland. The combination of this funding plus direct investment from each of the consortium members totals €47.6m. A major part of the work of this 3.5-year project will be conducted at X-FAB’s foundry operation in Corbeil-Essonnes, France, with additional activities also undertaken at the numerous other partners’ sites across Europe.