Technical University of Denmark: Companies are queuing up for chip production in clean room

DTU’s chip production clean room has become an in-demand platform for development and production of nanochips and microchips. Several large companies are queing up to rent more square metres in the clean room, and—with NATO’s decision to establish a quantum technology centre in Denmark with test facilities and an innovation hub at DTU—the need for more space increases. DTU has presented a project to double its clean room facilities.

“The upcoming NATO test facilities at DTU reflect that nanochip and microchip technology has become a crucial factor in our digital society. Denmark and DTU have an internationally leading position in quantum technology research, and Danish companies are world leaders in development and production of specialized chips and components. If Denmark is to maintain this position of strength, this will require additional clean room capacity and that we accommodate the business opportunities that arise,” says Rasmus Larsen, Provost at DTU.

The proposal to extend the clean room—which forms part of the National Centre for Nano Fabrication and Characterization—is based on a pre-project in which DTU has mapped the need. Against this background and with support from the Confederation of Danish Industry (DI) and the Danish Metal Workers’ Union, DTU is proposing an extension of the facilities by approximately 3,600 m², consisting of approximately 700 m² of clean room, 900 m² of supporting areas, 300 m² of learning and innovation environment, as well as distribution and technical areas.

Companies are queueing up
The clean room was last extended in 2000 and 2003, and DTU today has more than 1,350 m² of clean room at its disposal with a large number of machines for production of sensors and microchips, for example lithography and deposition. Jörg Hübner, Director of DTU Nanolab, explains that—since then—more equipment has been squeezed into the clean room and that there is not room for more equipment and thus for housing more technologies, large research projects, and companies.

“Companies are queuing up to get more space, and more people want to rent our machines, or have the opportunity to bring their own equipment. We want to accommodate this, and we also want to future-proof ourselves and create an environment in which there is room for new technologies, so that researchers can apply for new research projects to be carried out in the clean room,” says Jörg Hübner.

Clean room creates growth
DTU’s project to extend the clean room is described as a public-private collaboration, where the public sector contributes with building and clean room facilities, and private companies rent space and contribute with advanced machines in the laboratory. In the agreement with NATO, no funds have been earmarked for financing new clean room facilities, but the innovation hub will create increased commercial use of DTU’s clean room, thus making a stronger business case for an extension.

The extension of the clean room is also expected to create growth in Danish companies that demand microtechnology and nanotechnology chips—including Danfoss, Grundfos, Novo Nordisk, Microsoft, the hearing aid industry, and others—which collaborate with DTU on research and innovation within micro and nanofabrication.

Jörg Hübner believes that Denmark’s research into highly specialized microchips and nanochips will strengthen Denmark as a trading partner in the international market, where deliveries of chips to the manufacturing industry may be affected by the supply problems faced by major manufacturers in Asia and the United States.

“Denmark is too small a country for us to establish profitable domestic mass production with our own funds. But we have a strong position because we can offer high-tech chips. And by signalling that Denmark is committed to the chip industry—combined with world-class expertise and education—we may attract major chip manufacturers to establish themselves in Denmark. It’s therefore important that we ensure researchers access and available capacity so that they can apply to foundations for funding of new clean room projects. In this way, we maintain a flow of new technology, expertise, world-class education, and strong competences in the companies,” says Jörg Hübner.

Growing chip industry
Microtechnology and nanotechnology chip production in the form of semiconductor chips and microprocessors are main components of modern technology right from industrial robots, mobile phones, and energy efficiency enhancement to quantum technology and autonomous cars. The industry has grown by 20-30 per cent in recent years, and Danish companies are world leaders in the development of specialized chips that can process sensory data, light, sound, chemical substances, vibrations, and distances to other objects.

DTU expects that the extension of the National Centre for Micro and Nano Fabrication and the clean room can be completed before 2025 if public and private funding is obtained.

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