Europe launches chip research project

Chips that are still smaller, more powerful and use even less energy than those already in the pipeline today are the focus of a...

Chips that are still smaller, more powerful and use even less energy than those already in the pipeline today are the focus of a collaborative research project launched by the European Commission.

The European project, called NANOCMOS, aims to pioneer changes in materials, processes, device architectures and interconnections that will push the limits of semiconductor performance and density even further.

Under the initiative, researchers will focus on next-generation CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) technology, beginning with the 45-nanometer chip production process and extending to 32- and 22-nanometer processes.

CMOS technology - the most widely used integrated circuit design - is found in almost every electronic product, ranging from handheld devices to mainframe computers.

The commission has agreed to provide seed capital of €24m for the collaborative research project, which will provide the technological basis for later competition. Participating chip makers and research institutes are expected to match this amount.

In the first phase of the project, expected to last 27 months, researchers will demonstrate the feasibility of 45-nanometer CMOS logic technology. The goal is to develop an static Ram chip made using the technology by 2005.

During the first phase, researchers will also begin research activities on 32- and 22-nanometer CMOS technologies.

The second phase of the NANOCMOS project, starting in 2006, will then demonstrate the feasibility of the 32- and 22-nanometer chip production processes. The goal is to develop chips using these technologies as early as 2007.

The plan also calls for this phase to become part of the Medea+ (Microelectronics Development for European Applications) project, a Europe-wide initiative focused on pre-competitive research in the area of semiconductors.

By 2006, the consortium of companies and research institutes in the NANOCMOS project hopes to use 45-nanometer technology in an industrial 300mm in Crolles, France.

The wafer fab, called Crolles2, is operated by Philipsand STMicroelectronics - both members of the NANOCMOS project - as well as Motorola.

Other members of the project include Infineon Technologies, eight research labs co-ordinated by the French National Scientific Research Centre and another three by the German research institute Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.

The commission has listed a total of 12 organisations in the research initiative and expected more to sign up.

John Blau writes for IDG News Service

Read more on Business applications