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Prototyping in silicon photonics boosted by European collaboration

Technology News |
By eeNews Europe

Within the ESSenTIAL program funded by the European Commission, imec has worked closely with CEA-LETI (France), Tyndall Institute (Ireland), VTT (Finland), IHP (Germany), TNO (The Netherlands) and CMC (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 seen as a key enabling technology for a wide range of markets, from optical interconnect networks in data centres to disposable biosensor chips for immunoassays. Silicon photonics builds on the technology portfolio and economy of scale of CMOS fabs to manufacture sophisticated photonic integrated circuits with a combination of passive devices – in particular wavelength and polarisation 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 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. 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,” says Ghent University professor Roel Baets, one of the founders of ePIXfab and research team leader associated with imec.

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 25 Gbit/sec) were added to the MPW offering. Also, ePIXfab has started to organise extra MPW runs on two silicon photonics technology platforms with special unique features, at IHP and at VTT. In total over 200 silicon photonics circuit designs were prototyped at imec, LETI, IHP or VTT, including close to 50 designs from [outside] companies. Another achievement of the project was the creation of silicon photonics packaging services at Tyndall Institute. ”Packaging is often seen as the Achilles heel of photonic component technology. Tyndall Institute has developed a family of solutions, encompassing optical, electrical and RF packaging. These standardised packaging approaches for silicon photonic chips are available to industry through the ePIXfab-alliance”, stated Peter O’Brien, Head of the Photonics Packaging Group at Tyndall.


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

During ESSenTIAL the MPW operation for silicon photonics has been integrated into the Europractice IC service, marking a milestone for the further growth of Europe’s silicon photonics. “Through the Europractice service, more than 650 European academia and 300 companies world-wide have now access to Si Photonics technologies” says Carl Das, Chairman of the Europractice service. “ As we have implemented in electronics, we will offer a complete silicon photonics ecosystem to users in open access thus accelerating product innovations”, he added. Towards this, Europractice-IC now offers periodic and low-cost access to advanced silicon photonics technologies, standardised photonics packaging and photonics design support (https://www.europractice-ic.com/SiPhotonics_general.php). Access to Europractice-IC’s silicon photonics ecosystem can be financially supported for European small and medium-sized companies via EU-funded ACTPHAST project (www.actphast.eu).

ePIXfab is the European silicon photonics alliance. ePIXfab is a consortium of partners including partners imec (B), CEA-Leti (F), IHP (D), Tyndall National Institute (IE), TNO (NL) and VTT (FI) The original mission of ePIXfab was to coordinate MPW runs for silicon photonics. These activities have been transferred to Europractice IC Service. ePIXfab now puts focus on training, dissemination and roadmapping activities in the field of silicon photonics. A full-day training course on silicon photonics will be organised on September 27 2015 in conjunction with the ECOC2015 conference in Valencia. The alliance is open to new European members. For more information, contact prof. Roel Baets (roel.baets@ugent.be).

Europractice-IC service is supported by the “EUROPRACTICE2013” EC-funded project (This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement No 610018) and is offering access to CAD tools for academia and prototyping services for academia and companies. (https://www.europractice-ic.com).

CEA (Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique et aux Energies Alternatives) is a French Governmental Research Organization (15 000 employees) devoted to both fundamental and industrial Research & Development. Within CEA, CEA-LETI is one of the major European research centres for applied electronics. As a pioneer in Research & Development in Silicon Photonics (2002) CEA-LETI has developed strong expertise in devices’ design, integration and test, including Ge-on-Silicon photodetectors and heterogeneous III/V-on-Silicon lasers.


Tyndall National Institute is a research centre in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) research and development and the largest facility of its type in Ireland. Tyndall is a lead partner in European research partnerships in its core areas of ICT, communications, energy, health and the environment. Hosting the only full CMOS (metal oxide semiconductor) integrated circuit construction, Micro Electronic Mechanical systems (MEMS) and III-V Wafer Semiconductor fabrication facilities and services in Ireland, Tyndall is capable of prototyping new product opportunities for its target industries – electronics, medical devices, energy and communication. Tyndall is a globally leading Institute in its four core research areas of Photonics, Microsystems, Micro/Nanoelectronics and Theory, Modeling and Design. Tyndall is also the lead institution for the Science Foundation Ireland funded Irish Photonics Integration Centre (IPIC).

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd (www.vtt.fi) is the biggest multitechnological applied research organization in Northern Europe. VTT provides high-end technology solutions and innovation services for the private and public sectors, both in Finland and abroad. In silicon photonics, VTT is one of the pioneers in the field. Instead of the mainstream 220 nm SOI technology, VTT fabricates its silicon waveguide circuits on 3 µm SOI wafers. By using innovative designs and fabrication methods, VTT can combine small polarization dependency, low losses and ultra-wide bandwidth with extremely small device footprint.

TNO is an independent research organisation with focus is on transitions or changes in five social themes: Industry; Healthy Living; Defence, Safety & Security; Urbanisation and Energy. The Optics expertise at TNO covers amongst others classical optics for high-end applications in space, optical systems for the semiconductor industry, fibre optics for sensing applications, and integrated photonics. TNO has experience in all relevant photonic material systems, with currently main activities in 220 nm SOI technology for biosensing. Typical projects involve multiple disciplines in addition to a photonic core. TNO’s role is particularly in system engineering, taking into account all relevant disciplines.

IHP is a publicly funded research laboratory, member institute of the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Society, with core funding from the German Federal Government and the State Government of Brandenburg. The institute is focused on developing innovative solutions for wireless and broadband communication based on silicon technology, particularly in the 5-120 GHz range. Its expertise ranges from system prototyping and circuit design to the development of system-enabling CMOS-compatible technology modules.

Imec; www.imec.be


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