Photo: Fabrizio Sciami

Science and technology

What would you do if you couldn't replace your broken vacuum cleaner or refrigerator due to a chip shortage? Chip technology and chip self-sufficiency are burning issues not only in global politics and the world economy but also in the daily lives of modern consumers. Microscopic chips play a pivotal role in contemporary life, powering devices ranging from smartphones and cars to refrigerators and vacuum cleaners.

When a part of the production chain falters, as seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in the automotive industry, Finnish chips, household appliances, and cars may get stuck in the production pipeline. However, Finland has excellent prospects to become a leading European hub for chip expertise, with Espoo at the forefront of chip technology and manufacturing.

What Are Microchips?

Tiny microchips are crucial in everyday life and across industries. They are used in mobile phones, household appliances, mobile networks, and cars, as well as in high-tech products like quantum technology and healthcare. According to industry estimates, global demand for chips is expected to double from the current 500 billion dollars to approximately one trillion dollars by 2030. The proliferation of artificial intelligence and the green transition are driving this growth.

Microchips are currently a pressing global issue and a multi-billion-dollar industry. The United States and China are battling for chip supremacy, and in response to chip shortages, the European Union has created its own chip regulation to ensure chip self-sufficiency.

Quantum technology is one sector that relies on semiconductor technology. It can, for instance, help develop new medicines more rapidly.

Future Technology Developed and Manufactured in Espoo

Espoo has been at the forefront of microchip development since the early 1990s, collaborating with universities and companies on projects spanning from mobile phones to telecommunications networks. In the depths of Otaniemi's low red-brick buildings, technology that plays a key role in enhancing chip self-sufficiency and Finland's position as one of Europe's most important microelectronics and quantum technology hubs is being developed. From a strategic standpoint, Micronova, the largest cleanroom facility in the Nordic countries located in Espoo, along with the new pilot line called Kvanttinova, will strengthen Finland and Europe's security of supply for microchips and semiconductors.

Finland now has the opportunity to establish itself as Europe's leading specialized microelectronics and quantum technology research and business cluster.

"In Finland, we are ahead of the world in many areas of technology research and development. People from abroad want to come and work with us and learn from us. In Otaniemi, the facilities and equipment serve not only general research purposes but also as a springboard for start-ups in the semiconductor industry. The Kvanttinova project aims to build a new shared cleanroom environment for companies and research organizations, seamlessly connected to Micronova's cleanroom in Otaniemi. Micronova is already the largest research cleanroom in the Nordics, and through Kvanttinova investments, this capacity will nearly triple," says Tauno Vähä-Heikkilä, Head of Microelectronics and Quantum Technology at VTT.

Semiconductors and microchips represent a booming industry for the future. According to Technology Industries of Finland, companies in the semiconductor sector in Finland currently employ 5,000 people, and they expect the number of jobs to increase to 20,000 by 2023. Semiconductor industry revenues in Finland are projected to grow from around 1.5 billion euros to six billion euros by 2032.

Facts: What Are Chips and Semiconductors?

  • Chips, also known as microchips, integrated circuits, or processors, are tiny electronic components made using semiconductor materials such as silicon, silicon carbide, and germanium.
  • Chips often contain additional electronic components like resistors, capacitors, and transistor arrays, all integrated onto an extremely small piece of silicon.
  • The semiconductor industry encompasses the manufacturing, design, research, and application of semiconductors in electronics and technology.
  • Semiconductors are materials that conduct electricity and facilitate controlled electrical conduction.
  • In the semiconductor industry, various materials and emerging technologies are being used and combined, including superconductors and photonics.

Facts: What Is Quantum Technology?

  • Quantum technology is one area that relies on semiconductor technology.
  • Components required for quantum computers are based on microelectronics, meaning that both microelectronics and quantum technology ecosystems will accelerate each other's growth in the shared cleanroom environment.
  • Espoo already has a strong ecosystem for quantum technology development, including quantum computing, quantum software, and quantum computers.
  • The rapid development of quantum technology will challenge progress across all industries. Quantum technology is even seen as part of global great-power competition.
  • Europe aims to increase its self-sufficiency in microelectronics from the current 10 percent to 20 percent by 2030.

The Kvanttinova Project and Key Players in Brief

Kvanttinova is a joint initiative by VTT, Aalto University, the City of Espoo, the Technology Industries of Finland's semiconductor industry group, and other industry companies. The goal is to establish a new shared cleanroom environment for companies and research organizations, seamlessly connected to Micronova's cleanroom in Otaniemi. Micronova is already the largest research cleanroom in the Nordics, and investments in Kvanttinova will nearly triple its capacity.

Finland aims to create one of Europe's largest and most significant research and business clusters for specialized microelectronics and quantum technologies. The semiconductor companies operating in Finland currently employ 5,000 people, and they estimate that the number of jobs will increase to 20,000 by 2023. Publicly funded shared cleanroom facilities support research and the purchase of research equipment.

This project will be executed on a commercial basis, allowing companies to rent their own premises within the shared cleanroom building. The budget for shared publicly funded cleanroom facilities is currently 130 million euros. In addition to this, companies' planned investments in Kvanttinova exceed 500 million euros.