Fortis Bank puts it name beside the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the Flemish Government to finance the Inter-University MicroElectronic Centre's (IMEC) new research facility in Belgium, a statement confirms.
The EIB joined forces with Fortis Bank, Benelux's biggest bank, to provide a €46.8 million loan to the IMEC's ‘300mm Research Facility' being built in Leuven, a renowned university city east of Brussels. The loan will finance construction of a clean room, a central utility building and new offices with the aim of designing miniature silicon wafers used for making integrated circuits (IC) – a critical part of modern-day computers and electronics.
|The IMEC, research centre in microelectronics, nanotechnology, enabling design methods and technologies for ICT systems|
© Image: IMEC
The IMEC's current facility is suitable for equipment which can handle wafers with a diameter of 200mm. But semiconductor makers are keen to retool their production lines to use 300mm wafers in large-volume manufacturing because it reduces the cost per chip. Investing in this new research infrastructure now will help the IMEC – and Europe in general – maintain its leading position in micro- and nano-scale science and technologies.
Professor Gilbert Declerck, president and CEO of the IMEC, said the support received from the EIB, Fortis and earlier from the Flemish Government is an important step to broaden research in the European Union and to produce advanced IC process technologies and nanotechnologies. “We look forward to further extending our partnerships on nanoelectronics research within Europe through the… European Commission,” said Declerck. This may involve collaboration with the EU's executive body through its Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) for research which has a dedicated budget of €1.3 billion for ‘nanotechnologies and nanosciences, knowledge-based multifunctional materials and new production processes and devices'.
Keeping the edge
The Flemish Government in November 2002 gave an advance of over €37 million to get the €84 million construction project off the ground. Industry has confirmed its support for the new centre – partnerships have been signed with leading semiconductor manufacturers Infineon, Intel, Samsung Electronics and STMicroelectronics – which will help create technology up to six years ahead of the game.
Keeping ahead of the competition is a vital mantra in the fast-paced electronics market, but it is also key to European competitive advantage. The EIB's President Philippe Maystadt could not agree more. “Financing innovation and R&D in Europe has become a main objective for the EIB since the EU Heads of State decided at the 2000 Lisbon Summit to… [strive for] a knowledge-based economy,” he said. Approving this finance, the EU's financial institution is fulfilling its ‘Innovation Initiative' objective of granting medium- to long-term loans for projects active in R&D, information communication technologies (ICT), and education and training.
Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin echoed this view in a press statement on 13 November to mark the agreement on the loan package. “The Commission wholly supports this initiative,” he said. “A strong European Research Area in this field will allow European industry to strengthen its competitiveness… to stay in the race with the USA and Asia [which] are both investing massively in this field,” he confirmed.
Fortis' President Herman Verwilst is proud of his bank's role in stimulating research and development in Europe, and its involvement with the IMEC since it was formed in 1984 and grew into the largest European research centre in the field. He said they have financed several phases of the IMEC's current infrastructure and are happy to be on board in the next phase. “Know-how at world-class level attracts new knowledge and research contracts,” Verwilst commented. This guarantees the IMEC's place as an important player in the Leuven region and for Flanders in general, he added.
IMEC, EIB, Fortis press release