Microchips are everywhere – in computers, smart phones, in the car, traffic control systems, medical devices, in intelligent management systems in factories in the fields of manufacturing, energy supply and development. The increasing digitalisation of our everyday life does not only mean easier and more efficient workflows; it also presents us with a great challenge, because the modern micro and nanoelectronic allround devices require energy. Lots of energy.
The worldwide use of information and communication technologies (ICT) already devours some eight per cent of the electrical energy generated globally, thereby causing around two per cent of global CO2 emissions. Due to the strong growth of the ICT markets, a three-fold increase in ICT energy needs is predicted by the year 2020. This challenge has been taken on by the associates of the leading cluster “Cool Silicon” in Europe’s largest microelectronic business location, “Silicon Saxony”. Since 2009, institutions of higher education and research institutes in the Freiberg-Chemnitz-Dresden triangle have been working jointly with small and medium-sized companies as well as internationally active large companies to develop intelligent solutions for modern ICT.
Microelectronic expertise from Saxony for energy-efficient ICT. The leading cluster “Cool Silicon – Energy Efficiency Innovations from Silicon Saxony”, which is subsidised by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research as part of the High-tech Strategy, stakeholders such as large international companies like Globalfoundries, Infineon, X-FAB and Zentrum Mikroelektronik Dresden AG and the strong locally grown networks are pooling their expertise for energy-efficient microelectronics. Jointly they have declared war on conventional power guzzlers. The project partners in the leading cluster are together developing innovative IT solutions, which will significantly reduce energy use in the area of ICT, all the way down to energy-self-sufficient systems.
The Cool Silicon project partners are working hand in hand on energy-efficient IT systems and the corresponding infrastructure by bundling their forces in three areas. In the “Micro and Nanotechnologies” area, researchers are busy with the basic technologies for energy-efficient ICT products and their application in computers. In the second area, “Communication Systems”, the focus is on increasing energy efficiency in mobile communication systems and the necessary system components. In the third research area of the leading cluster, “Sensors Network”, work is being carried out on energy-self-sufficient and wireless-network sensor systems. These can then come into use everywhere where a connection to the traditional supply system is not possible, such as in aeroplanes made of carbon composites.
Chips are not everything, but without chips, there is nothing. With their work, they do more than just lay the foundation to ensure that Germany will continue to be a high-tech location with innovative strength. The technologies developed here also stimulate the traditional industrial branches, from mechanical engineering to aerospace technology all the way to the automotive engineering, medical technology and manufacturing industries. It is for good reason that ICT has been defined by the European Commission as one of the “Key Enabling Technologies” for a Europe that remains strong for the long term; after all, it is a cross-sectional technology that forms the basis for a sustainable economy.
Intelligent technologies for a competitive economy. The Silicon Saxony region unites the most important components of modern ICT: intelligent software and powerful hardware. The chips, sensors and transmission modules that are developed here form the heart of the networked society. The local industrial firms and research institutes laid down the bases for a secure ICT in the past and will continue to be the drivers of technology. The German microelectronics sector is strong, but it encounters increasing competition. Especially against the background of the latest data scandal, however, the production sites existing in Silicon Saxony represent a significant competitive advantage for the German economy: they keep Germany independent of chips from competing markets such as the US and Asia. This is of immense importance, for what use is the most secure software, the most sophisticated data structure, if the hardware on which it is installed itself poses a security risk for public and private business data? If it is possible to more or less configure chips and sensors already ex works so that they regularly “send signals home”, how secure can modern military systems, company data, power plants and traffic control systems be?
Using cooperative experiences successfully at the European level. In order to meet the technological and economic challenges, Europe’s leading microelectronic locations have come together in a cluster alliance, “Silicon Europe – The Leaders for Innovative Electronics”. Here Silicon Saxony has been working together with the other large microelectronic clusters in the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Austria in order to secure the position of European microelectronics and above all to strengthen it internationally. Successful work in this transnational confederation is based not least on the Cool Silicon experience on how to facilitate cooperation across different organisations.
Technological expertise and innovative strength in combination with tight networks and strong cooperation among industry, science and administration – these are factors that have enabled the Cool Silicon leading cluster over the past years not only to develop energy-efficient innovative products for modern industrial applications, but also to create resilient structures for a strong European microelectronics industry.
The author, who was born in 1955, studied engineering and economics in Cologne. For several years he worked in various positions in building and clean room technology before becoming CEO of Roth & Rau – Ortner GmbH in 1999. Since 2002, he has also been a member of the board of the industry-wide network of the microelectronics in Saxony, Silicon Saxony e.V., which was founded in 2001.