Europe looks to secure silicon wafer supply

January 13, 2022 // By Nick Flaherty
Europe looks to secure silicon wafer supply
Supply and processing of raw materials in Europe, including silicon wafers, is a key requirement, says Maroš Šefčovič, vice president of the European Commission

Europe needs to secure its supply of silicon as a raw material for semiconductor production says European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič at a conference in Brussels today

“Strategic autonomy is vital for Europe, not only in the context of COVID-19 and the prevention of supply disruptions. It is also essential to ensure that Europe remains a leading global economy,” he said.

He pointed to developments in battery and hydrogen production, and highlighted that silicon was similarly strategically important. His remarks imply the development of a major industrial project on silicon wafer supply in the region as the vast majority of silicon wafers are produced in Taiwan, although Japan is also boosting 300mm silicon wafer production.

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“We need to equip ourselves with a certain level of strategic capacity, especially with regard to critical technologies, products and components,” he said. “Supply chain disruptions have affected our access to certain strategic products, from pharmaceutical ingredients to semiconductors. And two years after the start of the pandemic, these disruptions have not gone away.”

“Take the batteries, our first tangible example of strategic foresight,” he said. “We launched the European Battery Alliance in 2017 in order to establish a battery industry, an essential cog in the European economy and a driver for our climate goals. Today, thanks to the "Team Europe" approach, we are on the way to becoming the world's second largest producer of battery cells by 2025.”

“A better understanding of the EU's strategic dependencies is an important first step, in order to identify the measures to be taken to tackle them, which are evidence-based, proportionate and targeted. We have found that these dependencies play an important role across the entire European market, from energy intensive industries, especially raw materials and chemicals, to renewable energies and digital industries”.

“To overcome the EU's dependence on semiconductors produced in Asia and create a cutting-edge European microchip ecosystem, we need to secure our silicon supplies,” he said. “It is therefore of the utmost importance that the EU develops a more dynamic and resilient raw material supply, and equips itself with more sustainable and efficient refining and recycling facilities.

“We are currently working to identify the extraction and processing capacities in the EU and in our partner countries that would reduce our dependence on imports of essential raw materials, while ensuring that the criteria for sustainability environment are fully respected.”

The €95bn funding of Horizon Europe research programme includes €1 billion for critical raw materials, and the Important Projects of Common European Interest (IPCEI) scheme can also be used to support national efforts to pool public resources in areas where the market alone cannot provide the breakthrough innovation needed.

“We have already approved two battery-related IPCEIs, with a total value of some €20 billion. Both are a success,” he said. “They are helping to consolidate Europe's position as the world's leading destination for battery investment, clearly ahead of other major economies. Similar projects are attracting great interest in sectors such as hydrogen, the cloud and the pharmaceutical industry, and the Commission will support interested Member States where possible.

He also points to the skills gap.

“The European labour market is struggling to meet the demand for a workforce with the skills needed for emerging technologies and products. The battery sector, for example, will need around 800,000 additional workers by 2025. That is why we have launched the European Battery Academy,” he said. “If this issue is not addressed broadly in the near future, we risk maintaining a dependence on foreign labour markets, especially in Asia, which would likely hamper the development of strategic value chains in Europe.”

“We are off to a good start in reducing our strategic dependencies. But we must go further and act faster. We must step up the collective efforts of the EU, Member States and industry to provide the necessary long-term structural solutions. Several relevant European initiatives are already underway or in preparation, including an emergency single market instrument, which will help us secure supply chains in times of crisis.

ec.europea.eu

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