Europe’s big technology bets

4 Jul 2011

We look at some of the next big things that Europe wants its scientists and manufacturing industries to focus on. These include nanotechnology, industrial biotech, photonics, advanced materials and advanced manufacturing systems.

The European Commission’s High Level Expert group on key emerging technologies (KETs), which included former Intel country manager Jim O’Hara representing the semiconductor industry, has identified six key areas of technology that are worth US$832bn today but could be worth US$1,282bn by 2015.

The European Commission defines KETs as knowledge and capital-intensive technologies associated with high R&D intensity and rapid integrated innovation cycles, high capital expenditure and highly-skilled employment.

These technology bets will be at the core of future consumer electronics devices, healthcare, transport and communication.

Mastery of KETs as a strategic priority, Europe believes, is required to ensure Europe-based companies can produce the innovative products of the future.

The KET team has identified a three-pillar approach to crossing the “valley of death” – the gulf between identifying new technologies and manufacturing them.

The first stage ‘Technological Research’ consists of taking advantage of European scientific excellence in transforming the ideas arising from fundamental research into technologies competitive at world level.

The second stage ‘Product Demonstration’ will allow for the use and exploitation of KETs on European soil to make innovative and performing products competitive at world level.

And the third stage, ‘Competitive Manufacturing’, should create European manufacturing ecosystems for globally competitive products and industries to compete with Asian and US rivals.

Intel VP and Intel Ireland’s general manager Eamonn Sinnott commented on the findings: “We support the report’s recommendations to create a global level playing field for advanced manufacturing in Europe, with particular emphasis on the crucial contributions of the semiconductor industry.

“It is imperative that we retain and attract new investments in advanced manufacturing in order to sustain and grow this capability,” Sinnott added.

Nanotechnology and nanoelectronics

The EU says micro and nanoelectronics is a US$250bn industry that could be worth US$300bn by 2015, with an expected compound annual growth rate of 13pc, while nanotechnology is a €12bn industry with the potential to grow at 16pc a year to reach US$27bn by 2015.

In terms of manufacturing these products, we are fortunate within Europe to have developed four main micro/nanoelectronics clusters. They are in Dresden, Grenoble, Eindhoven/Nij/Leuven and Ireland (Dublin).

In addition, several further smaller locations with micro/nanoelectronics expertise exist, such as Villach, Catania, Agrate, Regensburg, Erlangen and Munich. In these geographic regions, there is still a widespread existence of front-end, some back-end and numerous R&D locations, but many of these locations are not yet producing at the current industry standard level of 300 mm for More Moore and 200mm for More than Moore companies.

It is estimated that in 2008 there were 160,000 workers in nanotechnology, representing a 25pc increase between 2000 and 2008. Assuming this trend is increasing by 2015, some 2m new jobs will be created by this technology, of which 40pc will reside in the US.

Advanced materials

Advanced materials, including new energy sources such as advanced batteries, photovoltaics, gas turbines and solid state lighting, are tipped to grow 6pc a year to become a €150bn market in 2015.

Europe has led the world in developing these areas over the last 30 years but is losing out to other geographies, in particular Asia, which are leading the world’s production. Europe has less than 5pc of the global production of battery materials.

US President Barack Obama, during a tour of the Ford Motor Co plant in Chicago, has also professed an interest in the field and said he expects the US to have 40pc of the world’s advanced battery market by 2015.

Industry Biotechnology

Industrial biotechnology – also known as white biotechnology – uses enzymes and micro-organisms to make bio-based products in sectors as diverse as chemicals, food and feed, healthcare, detergents, paper and pulp, textiles and bioenergy.

The EU high-level team identified that this particular area of technology could grow from US$90bn to become a US$125bn market by 2015.

Industrial biotechnology is mainly characterised by conversion of renewable biomass to products used in the consumer, chemical or energy industries. It could be distinguished from, for example, discovery research in pharma or agrochemicals, chemical transformation of renewable raw materials, biodiesel production from plant products and chemical degradation of organic waste materials.

Advanced manufacturing

Advanced manufacturing systems, including semiconductors, has been identified as an area that grows 5pc year on year to become a US$200bn industry.

According to the KET group Europe, the cradle of the Industrial Revolution hosts a manufacturing base that builds its strength on a long-established engineering tradition, a strong R&D capacity and universities, the ability of industry to adapt to technological progress and to produce high quality products that find customers all around the globe.

However, the same manufacturing industry provides technologies and solutions which are needed to respond to major challenges of the 21st century, namely, climate change, resource and energy efficiency, security, ageing society and sustainable mobility in order to ensure a better future for society. Europe remains a top-class manufacturing base and is a world leader in a good number of high-end technologies.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years