The government is planning to provide the largest amount of European funding to the multimillion-dollar chip industry


The government has so far approved nine strategic projects for economic recovery and transformation (PERTE), on which it allocates European funds, which are authorized to accelerate recovery after the corovirus crisis. The executive has already announced what will be the tenth, which will be rewarded with more money than any of the previous ones: PERTE for popularizing the semiconductor and microchip industry. As President Pedro Sanchez said on Monday, the plan will have an investment of € 11,000 million, more than half of the investment made in the previous nine.

The government has not yet announced what measures will be allocated to PERTE funds for microchips. Sources in the Ministry of Economy, led by Nadia Calvino, told that 11,000 million would be a “public investment in line with the European Commission’s strategy” to ensure that by 2030, 20% of the world’s chips will be produced. Made in Europe: “This plan has been awarded more than 43,000 million euros and this is where this PERTE is inserted,” they specify. This figure means a fourfold increase in the current level of production.

The EU plan, launched in February, is in response to a microchip supply crisis that erupted in 2020 and led to a permanent collapse in electronics supplies. Not only have mobile, computer or tablet factories had to slow down production due to a lack of components, but the availability of all kinds of appliances or cars has been affected, with new models expected to take more than six months to arrive. All manufacturers with factories in Spain have announced ERTEs due to chip shortages. According to the forecast of the European Central Bank, the crisis will not be fully resolved by 2023.

To avoid or even mitigate this in the future, Brussels has developed a strategy to implement all stages of the chip production phase on the continent. The € 43,000 million package, which includes € 11,000 to be allocated by Spain, includes assistance to stimulate private investment on the continent. “Public-private partnerships are an integral part of every PERTE, and it will be no less,” said Nadia Calvinio’s team.

Despite a number of plans in Europe and Spain, they are pale in comparison to plans in the industry: Intel, one of the giants in the sector, recently announced that it would invest around € 17,000 million in the construction of two microchip plants. To expand facilities in Germany and another 12,000 in Ireland. The American multinational company has made progress that its investment in Europe will reach 80,000 million euros, which will double the European budget.

Part of the money that Intel is allocating to increase its presence in the EU will go to Barcelona to fund “research laboratories”, where the National Supercomputer Center is located. The facility maintains a Spanish MareNostrum supercomputer and leads a European development project to create an open chip standard. As its director explained in an interview with this media, the goal is to develop a “set of instructions that belongs to everyone and everyone that serves so that anyone can make their own chips and that we are not dependent on companies that pay more. 50 times more than what their development costs “.

Intel is one such company, but “the open source market is growing so fast that these companies are also deciding to open,” Danny Moreno, president of the Spanish Semiconductor Industry Association (Aesemi), told ). This organization, the first employers’ association of Spanish microchip companies (founded at the end of 2021), notes the passage of the executive branch with the new PERTE: “The impetus given by the government is very positive.”

“Money? Money is never enough, but the plan will help the public realize that it is a strategic industry and that without chips there is no automotive industry, no medical diagnosis, no renewable energy …” he said on the phone. Conversation. Moreno is the founder of Wiyo, a company dedicated to the design of chips. To cite the value figures in the industry, he says a license to use the computer software needed to operate the chip factory equipment and design the required shape costs about 400,000 euros a year.

“We are issuing six licenses for this tool and using four more tools for the 20 engineers we have. Calculate the investment amount just to start designing the chip,” he says.

These figures are the result of the extreme level of technology achieved by the microchip industry. The “clean rooms” where they are researched and run are more thoroughly filtered than the operating rooms, as the most advanced microchips are already up to three nanometers in size, smaller than most viruses, and any particles that fall on them can rot. Its functioning. There are 15 billion transistors in the five nanometers of one of Apple’s latest chips, which is the key to binary code that governs digital life. “It’s like building a miniature city that looks like a space telescope,” Moreno said.

EU companies, including Spanish companies, are primarily positioned in the design of chips. But after the design comes another 14 stages, which are divided into the production, production and assembly of prototypes to turn these microchips into a consumer product. In the phases of the prototype it is completely dependent on the outside. Only large specialized multinational companies such as Intel or Samsung have the economic strength to have their own capabilities for all stages. The rest depends on factories such as the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), which controls between 60 and 90% of global chip production.

The digital pandemic delay, which added to the freight crisis, has left companies like TSMC waiting up to 14 months for access systems to ship chips, though scientists note that material delays are also behind the delay. And raw materials.

The EU plan, which Spain is now joining with the new PERTE microchip, aims to import all stages of chip production to the European continent and to promote open standards to prevent several companies from controlling production. “Their job is to make millions of waffles to sell. When we come from a small company and try to hire their cars for a test, they tell us we will be back in six months or nine months and they do. Almost benevolent. It is necessary to create an ecosystem to enable any small company to participate, ”reads the President of Aesemi.

Source: El Diario


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