Cork-based Tyndall set to lead €15.5m EU photonics consortium

28 Mar 2017

Prof Peter O’Brien, Tyndall National Institute. Image: Tyndall

Tyndall National Institute is heading up a new consortium that is looking into the development of state-of-the-art photonics infrastructure.

Claiming a future value of €615bn by 2020, the EU believes that the photonics market is poised to become a lucrative field to operate in.

So much so, that it has created a new international consortium to provide Europe with state-of-the-art infrastructure, supporting the industrial development and manufacture of photonic integrated circuits (PICs).

Tyndall National Institute in Cork will lead the group, receiving a total of €15.5m in initial investment.

Photonics involves the generation, control and detection of light, with possibilities around internet connectivity and the internet of things meaning that growing teams of scientists are investigating ways to monetise new data transfer practices.

Big business

Called PIXAPP, the consortium has emerged after the EU highlighted photonics as critical for the future economic development of Europe. The EU estimated that Europe’s share of the production technology market is currently 55pc – a dominant position it does not want to lose.

Our need for photonics is driven by the fact that the speed and usage of our day-to-day technology is almost at capacity. Photonics will address mass market requirements in communications, healthcare and security.

Prof Peter O’Brien, head of photonics packaging research at Tyndall, said the consortium “has an unmatched record of excellence in delivering many world ‘firsts’ in PICs”.

“We will offer these technologies through a single easy access point, which we call the ‘pilot line gateway’, which is located at Tyndall.

“Furthermore, we plan to train and educate the photonics workforce of the future by creating a unique laboratory-based training programme. This programme is a game-changer, not only for the European photonics industry but also global photonics.”

Packaging costs

Packaging PICs can represent up to 80pc of the cost of components in this field, so it is a critical area for the industry. PIXAPP is tasked with lessening that burden, removing the “bottleneck for production”, according to Jose Pozo, director of technology and innovation at the European Photonics Industry Consortium.

“I am confident that Tyndall National Institute’s leadership will deliver market success for Europe and drive our competitiveness across the communications, medical, automotive, energy, safety and defence sectors globally,” he said.

Dr Prince Anandarajah, lecturer at the School of Electronic Engineering in Dublin City University (DCU), recently wrote about how photonics could provide a welcome relief to the pressures placed on data centres.

Although bandwidth growth is getting out of hand, there is light at the end of the tunnel, according to Anandarajah.

“Along with the team at DCU School of Electronic Engineering, we have developed an ‘optical comb source’ that allows many wavelengths of light (and so, many parallel high-speed data channels) to be produced using a single laser and carried on a single optical fibre,” he said.

“This is a cost-effective and energy-efficient solution that is being targeted at the impending traffic bottleneck, thereby transforming data centres.”

Elsewhere, Science Foundation Ireland is backing a Trinity College Dublin-based investigation into laser technology and its potential benefits to future connectivity.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic