EE Times Europe – Europe Needs 2-nm by 2030, says Soitec CEO

A 2-nm fab in Europe: futile or farsighted? After the European Commission stated the intent to have manufacturing capacities below the 5-nm node, aiming at 2 nm, many wondered if this would meet Europe’s ambitions for a resilient semiconductor supply chain. At a press conference, Paul Boudre, CEO of Soitec, shared his observation and vision.

Europe has strategic assets in the semiconductor value chain, with three large IDMs (STMicroelectronics, Infineon, and NXP), the world’s leading photolithography equipment maker (ASML), a dynamic startup ecosystem, and world-class technology research centers (CEA-Leti, Imec, Fraunhofer Institute). Yet, Europe’s share of global production capacity has declined from 24% in 2000 to 8% in 2021, according to consulting firm Kearney.

To stay competitive in the global race, Europe has no choice but to reverse this downward trajectory.

The European Commission presented its Digital Compass in March 2021, then launched the Industrial Alliance on Processors and Semiconductor Technologies and announced the European Chips Act shortly thereafter. The motivation behind these successive initiatives has been to put semiconductors back at the core of the European technological race and ensure Europe’s sovereignty. Because of concerns about overreliance on chip production in Asia and the risk of being caught in the crossfire of Asia-US geopolitical tensions, the EC called for establishing European manufacturing capacity below the 5-nm node, aiming at 2 nm, and for Europe to account for 20% of the world’s semiconductor production by value by 2030.

Paul Boudre, CEO of Soitec

These announcements inevitably raise key questions.

At a recent press conference in Paris, Paul Boudre, CEO of Soitec, described the work of the EC, and more specifically of Commissioner Thierry Breton, as “strategic” and “fantastic”. He said, “This was a wake-up call for all Europeans on the position of semiconductors”, and specified that Thierry Breton initially focused on the 2-nm node, but his point of view and that of the EC have evolved.

Boudre laid out his reasoning, point by point.

“Does Europe need 5-nm and 2-nm manufacturing capacity by 2030? Yes.”

“Do the big European players and champions need the 2-nm node for their five-year roadmap today? The answer is no.”

Why not? Because there are “no major market drivers for these champions”.

By 2030, will they need it? The answer is “yes”.

“That’s where we’re going to have to coordinate efforts and anticipate the path forward in Europe,” said Boudre.

“We need the 2-nm node, but the ecosystem we need to build to get there will take time. It will require investments and alliances in Europe,” said Boudre, specifying that Intel’s €80 billion pan-European investment plan could pave the way for partnerships.

“Europe needs to massively accelerate and establish manufacturing capacity down to the 10-nm node, [because] that’s where the biggest growth in the world is going to happen. We are able to go fast as long as the ecosystem around the 28-nm and 22-nm nodes exists. It is doable.”

Global competition is fierce, and China’s serious investments in developing its semiconductor manufacturing capacities should be taken. “Their investments are becoming massive in the technology that Europe will invest in. We have to be very aware that there is and always will be competition, so we have to move very quickly.”

According to Kearney, the total value of European semiconductor consumption will almost double, reaching nearly €80 billion by 2030, from €44 billion in 2020. Today, compute electronics and communication electronics jointly account for about 70% of the EU’s total semiconductor consumption and leading-edge chips account for less than 20%. This distribution will change significantly over the next decade.

CHIPS Act: faster together

At the recent Industry Strategy Symposium 2022 in Brussels, SEMI Europe called for the swift adoption of the European Chips Act and invited discussions on the legislation with the European Parliament, Member States, and the European Commission.

Supporting Europe’s industrial growth and resilience, SEMI Europe has published a position paper concerning Europe’s semiconductor strategy for the consideration of the European Commission, the Parliament, and the Council. The association also signed and co-authored a Joint Industry Statement that urges the European Commission, the Parliament, and the European Council to:

  • Focus on investment conditions and opportunities to enhance European competitiveness.
  • Create a crisis response framework to help alleviate semiconductor industry disruptions.
  • Involve the semiconductor industry in Europe Chips Act governance.
  • Coordinate actions with global partners.

At Soitec’s press conference, EE Times Europe asked Boudre’s take on the adoption process of the European Chips Act. As the vice president of the SEMI Europe advisory board, he said, “Europe’s political leaders have done a tremendous job of positioning Europe on the three pillars of the CHIPS act, ie innovation, manufacturing capability, and infrastructure. We now need to deploy them [the three pillars]and we need industry to take ownership of them.”

He continued, “There is a lot of value in each of these pillars with a great ability to work together, and we need to continue to point out the gaps to keep moving faster. We are moving in the right direction.”

The European Chips act, announced on Feb. 8 by the European Commission, is set to mobilize €43 billion in public and private funding for the semiconductor industry, with the ambition to double the EU’s current share of global chip production to 20% in 2030.

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Soitec Wafer.

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