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Research Highlights

An Overview of EU-funded Photonics Research


PHOTONICS UNIT OF DG INFORMATION SOCIETY AND MEDIA, EUROPEAN COMMISSION

 

 

Introduction
The birth of the laser 50 years ago unleashed a revolution in the world of photonics. Today photonics technologies are everywhere around us: from communications and health, to materials processing in production, to lighting and photovoltaics and to everyday products like DVD players and mobile phones.
     Europe has a long tradition in optics research and has now developed a high level of expertise in photonic technologies with many high-quality research groups in universities and public research centres and many strong industries. Overall, there are more than 5000 companies, mostly SMEs, employing almost 300,000 people. The European photonics industry is market leader in several key photonics sectors, such as communications, biophotonics, lighting, photovoltaics, industrial laser technologies, and safety and security, with market shares ranging from 20% to 45% (according to [1], the global production volume in photonics was €270 billion in 2008).
     Many European photonics players are clustered around so-called photonics regional innovation clusters and national technology platforms. These clusters are usually industry-academia partnerships which aim to tackle market fragmentation by combining and focusing R&D, education and training resources at regional or at national level. They have the necessary critical mass in terms of size and range of activities and a sort of political recognition to act on behalf of their members. Today, there are more than 30 photonic clusters developed in many countries of the European Union (EU), in particular Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the UK. For an overview, see [2].

Figure 1. Geographical distribution of recognized photonic innovation clusters (open stars) and national technology platforms (blue stars) in Europe.

     In order to overcome the regional and national barriers and to establish Europe as a leader in photonic technologies, in 2006, the majority of the leading industries, universities and research centres founded Photonics21, the European Technology Platform (ETP) in photonics [1]. The mission of Photonics21 is to establish strategic links, co-ordinate common efforts in photonics R&D in Europe, and transform knowledge into leading-edge technologies and products which are competitive on a global scale. Photonics21 plays a key role in the definition of national priorities in photonics and optics related research programmes in several EU countries. The platform has defined medium to long-term R&D objectives and recommendations for photonics in Europe in its strategic research agenda [3]. This agenda is valuable input for defining the photonics key research priorities that the EU funds under its research framework programmes.
     The EU supports photonics research for several years now. For example, in the period 2002–2006, around 50 photonics research projects were funded under the EU’s 6th research framework programme (FP6) for approximately €130 million. Under the 7th research framework programme (FP7, 2007–2013), the EU has further increased its financial support to photonics research and, since early 2007 it has created a dedicated Photonics Unit.
     The remainder of this paper is organised as follows: Section 1 briefly presents the EU’s research framework programmes and the mission and objectives of the Photonics Unit. It then describes the main challenges and R&D priorities which the unit is supporting under FP7 and provides representative examples of EU-funded photonics research projects. Finally, section 2 presents the way forward for EU photonics research.


1. EU-funded Photonics Research:
Challenges and Priorities
Research Framework Programmes are the main instrument at EU level aimed specifically at supporting R&D. They have two major strategic objectives: strengthen the scientific and technological base of European industry and encourage its international competitiveness, through research that supports EU policies. The currently running 7th research Framework Programme (FP7) has a duration of 7 years (2007–2013) and a total budget of over €50 billion [4]. Most of the FP7 money is spent on grants to research actors all over Europe and beyond. Such grants are determined on the basis of EU-wide calls for proposals and a peer review process which is highly competitive.
     Photonics plays an ever increasing role under the EU’s research and innovation policy. This is not only noticeable in the explicit mentioning of photonics in FP7, but also through the creation, in January 2007, of an administrative unit exclusively dedicated to photonics R&D. The unit is part of the European Commission’s Information Society and Media Directorate-General [5]. The mission of the unit is to promote excellence in the field and to be a driving force for photonics research in Europe. The unit aims to tackle the fragmentation of Europe’s research capabilities and to make Europe the best in photonics research and the best in translating those results into real innovation, thus increasing industrial competitiveness. Supported by the Photonics21 ETP, the unit brings together the key photonics research stakeholders in Europe in collaborative R&D projects. By combining the strengths of the photonics industry with that of the research institutions and academics, the goal is to stimulate greater and more effective investments in R&D; and to foster the development of innovative photonics components and subsystems and their market deployment.

 

Photonics Research in FP7 (2007–2013)
Photonics is a pervasive and key-enabling technology, which is applied in many different industrial areas and application sectors. It is for this reason that photonics research is promoted in several FP7 research programmes, such as: Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), Health, Energy and Nanosciences, Nanotechnologies, Materials & new Production technologies (NMP) [6].
     Within FP7, the bulk of photonics research is promoted by the ICT Programme [7] and managed by the Photonics Unit. R&D projects are supported through dedicated competitive calls. Selected projects address high-risk medium to long-term research that requires trans-national, multi-partner collaboration of an interdisciplinary nature.
     Since the beginning of FP7, 65 R&D photonic projects, including organic photonics, have been selected so far for more than €210 million of EU funding. Projects are increasingly multidisciplinary, bridging the areas of physics, materials science, engineering, biology and chemistry. They address the development of core photonic technologies (e.g., lasers, waveguides, photo-detectors, amplifiers, LEDs, optical fibres, etc) which are driven by specific application needs in strategic sectors such as communications, manufacturing, biophotonics, photovoltaics, lighting and displays, and safety and security. The application driven research topics are supplemented by R&D on cross-cutting issues such as photonics technology integration platforms and foundry facilities or nano-photonics – see Figure.
     In the following sections, the main challenges and key research priorities are described for each of the above photonics application sectors. Representative examples of EU-funded R&D projects are also presented. More detailed information about the EU’s Photonics Unit and the R&D projects it supports can be found in [8].

 

Photonic Technologies for Data Communications
We are now the most connected and informed society ever. Every year, we experience continued growth in network traffic of around 40–50%. However, should this growth continue, current information processing and communication systems based on copper and electronics will soon be reaching their capacity limits in terms of physical space, power consumption, wasted heat, or speed of transferring data from processor to periphery.
     Photonic technologies – lasers, optical fibres, optical components, optical systems and optical coding technologies – in core as well as in access networks are gradually introduced as they can provide concrete solutions to the above-mentioned challenges of the sector. The overarching challenge is to make networks affordable over the long run by dramatically reducing the overall cost per bit. To achieve this, EU-supported research addresses the following four major objectives:

  • build faster optical networks: system, subsystem and component technologies to deliver cost-effective transmission at bit rates of 10 Gb/sec and beyond for the access network and several Terabits/sec for the core network;
  • build more dynamic networks to access the data and automatically and dynamically control and manage network connections; and achieve dynamic optical flow switching of very large bursts of data packets and provide on-demand broadband access connections with adjustable bit rates to end-users;
  • build all optical networks which are transparent to light throughout, where an optical data stream enters the network through the input node, travels across several intermediate nodes, and reaches its destination node without conversion to electronics along the route, whatever the protocol and bit-rate is used;
  • build greener optical networks: lower-power photonic technology solutions to reduce the carbon footprint of the Internet, and cheaper components and systems to extend digital services to everyone.

     In the Photonics Unit, there are 29 R&D projects running in this field for more than €100 million of EU funding. Projects address: highly integrated optical modules enabling cost effective systems with high data throughput and flexibility for less electro-optical conversions; optical interconnects aiming at cost- and energy-effective technology for Tb/s optical data links in short range communications; truly cost effective broadband core networks at 100 Gbps and beyond; access networks technology enabling 1–10 Gbps data-rate per client over more than 100 km; and lower power consumption.

Figure 2. Main application sectors addressed by research projects funded by the EU’s FP7 ICT Programme.

 

Representative Examples of
R&D Projects in Data Communications
PHASORS – PHase sensitive Amplifier Systems and Optical RegeneratorS and their applications (http://www.eu-phasors.eu/): The project targets the development and applications of fibre-based phase sensitive amplifiers (PSAs) in 40 Gbit/s broadband core networks. PSAs have the potential to be a disruptive technology within future optical communications enabling ultra-low noise amplification and ultrafast optical processing functions for networks employing high spectral efficiency phase encoded signals. Work is carried out at two subsystems: optical sampling and regeneration of phase encoded signals. For optical sampling, a novel approach is being investigated to allow the analysis of arbitrary amplitude and phase-encoded signals in the complex plane based on optical fibre all-optical sampling. The regeneration, both single channel and multi-wavelength regeneration, of phase encoded signals will be obtained by developing a suitable PSA. Non-interferometric based regenerators for both DPSK, and if possible DQPSK formats, will also be developed.
     POF-PLUS – Plastic Optical Fibre for Pervasive Low-cost Ultra-high capacity Systems (http://www.ict-pof-plus.eu/) is targeting next generation high-speed home networking solutions (both wirebound and wireless), and low-cost optical interconnects in large data centres and storage area networks. The project will develop new components, modify fibre assemblies and optimise transmission techniques to enable high speed (multiple Gbps) optical links based on standard large-core Plastic Optical Fibre (POF). It will take full advantage of the intrinsic low cost and extreme ease of installation of POF based systems to aid both wired and wireless service delivery to end users in next generation networks (NGN). The viability of radio-over-POF transport of wireless services will be demonstrated as well.
     VISIT – Vertically Integrated Systems for Information Transfer (http://www.visit.tu-berlin.de/) aims to develop ultrahigh-speed and low-cost micro-lasers capable of operating efficiently with both low-power consumption and at speeds of up to 40 Gbps (4 times faster than today’s existing commercial technology). The focus is on the development of a complete end-product supply chain, from basic materials for assembly to practical applications and of international technology standards. First demonstrations of the key optical transmitter devices up to 40 Gbps have already been achieved and the new concept of high speed electro-optic modulation in micro-lasers was demonstrated. This will eventually push the technology to or beyond 100 Gbps. VISIT is now working on further device refinement, wavelength extension, reliability, and optimal packaging and testing schemes.
     PIANO+ (http://www.pianoplus.eu/) is a trans-national research action that was launched on 1st January 2010 for 5 years. It brings together the funding agencies of five European countries (Austria, Germany, Israel, Poland and the United Kingdom). The action aims to promote research projects that would enable economic, ubiquitous broadband access of 1 Gbit/s and beyond per subscriber by 2015–2020, whilst meeting the shorter term needs of telecom system operators and users. Following a competitive call for proposals, 13 projects were selected for a total funding of €18.9 million. They will be launched in 2011. Two thirds of the funds will come from the participating countries and one third from the EU.

 

Photonics for (Laser-Assisted) Manufacturing
Lasers are very versatile manufacturing tools for working materials ranging from steel and plastics to ceramics and semiconductors. They are used for example for cutting and joining, ablation and deposition, drilling and marking. Future high-volume applications will generate a demand for laser systems to process high-strength steels, lightweight and crash-safe car bodies, photovoltaics and semiconductors, tubes and profiles, and miniaturised components in medical technologies. New methods will also be required for making new product shapes and single items for product customisation.
     The main technology challenges for the use of lasers in future applications are: new wavelengths; higher output power (both average and peak); shorter pulses; higher power efficiencies to produce more light with less energy; adaptive beam shaping and manipulation methods and adaptively reconfigurable beam delivery methods; smaller components and higher system integration; real-time process diagnosis and online-control of production processes. Europe holds a leading position in the world market for photonics used in industrial production and is facing stiff competition, in particular from Asia. The price pressure is therefore a challenge and lowering costs of laser processing systems is crucial.
     EU-supported research addresses the development of high brilliance fibre and diode lasers, novel lasers and laser systems opening-up new process windows or optimising process efficiencies, and highly integrated components. In the Photonics Unit, there are two FP7 R&D projects running in the field for around €5 million of EU funding. Both projects started on 1st September 2010.

 

Representative Examples of R&D Projects in
(Laser-Assisted) Manufacturing
QCOALA - Quality Control of Aluminium Laser-welded Assemblies will develop a new dual-wavelength laser processing system for welding thin-gauge aluminium and copper, 0.1 mm to 1.0 mm in thickness, with integrated process monitoring and in-line non-destructive inspection. The project will provide a reliable, high-speed, low-cost and high-quality joining solution for electric car battery and thin-film photovoltaic cell interconnections. The new laser processing system will be based on a pulsed platform, capable of laser pulses in the range of µs to ms and pulse energies of up to (tens of) Joules, and capable of generating both the near-IR and green wavelength through a dual-wavelength beam scanner. Real-time temporal pulse control will be developed to allow closed-loop control of the monitored process. Through fully integrated process ICT and Statistical Process Control, the new system will facilitate in-line quality control, and a higher level of automation in manufacturing.
     IMPROV – Innovative Mid-infrared high Power source for resonant ablation of Organic based photovoltaic devices addresses high power tuneable mid-infrared (MIR) short pulse laser systems operating in the wavelength range between 3 µm and 11 µm. Up to now, such laser systems exist only as multistage set-ups consisting of four or five different units, a configuration which is very complex, expensive and operating with low efficiency. IMPROV’s layout is based on a Master Oscillator Power Amplifier (MOPA) short pulse Thulium all-fibre laser operating around 2 µm associated with a quasi-phase-matched GaAs crystal. For the MOPA pump source different integration aspects will be addressed in order to fully benefit from a waveguide device. The wavelength conversion unit will be realised with integrated wavelength tunability and structural design. This MIR-laser will operate in the wavelength region from 2.5 µm to 11 µm with pulse energy of up to 30 µJ, pulse duration between tens to hundreds of picoseconds and a repetition rate between 0.1 to 1 MHz. The laser source will be validated in the manufacturing process of organic photovoltaic solar cells

 

Biophotonics for Healthcare and the Life Sciences
Biophotonics is the application of light to living matter. The ability of light to detect and measure in a way which is very fast, sensitive and accurate, gives photonics a unique potential to revolutionise health care. It can be used for:

  • very early detection of diseases, with non-invasive imaging techniques or point-of-care application which, for example can detect molecules in the blood which indicate the presence of disease (cancer, heart etc);
  • investigating live processes at the molecular level, giving a greater understanding of the origin of disease, and hence allowing new treatments and prevention;
  • less invasive and more accurate light based treatments such as photo-dynamic therapy and micro-surgery.

     Biophotonics is a rapidly growing market where Europe is in leading position. In the Photonics Unit there are 8 running R&D projects receiving around €23 million of EU funding. They are developing photonics components and systems which are the key enabler for these medical and life-science applications.

 

Representative Examples of R&D Projects in Biophotonics
INTOPSENS – a highly INTegrated OPtical SENSor for point-of-care label-free identification of pathogenic bacteria strains and their antibiotic resistance (http://www.intopsens.eu) is a multidisciplinary project involving the emerging fields of photonics structures, electronics, fluidics and bio-chemistry. It aims to develop a highly integrated optical sensor (compact polymer and silicon-based CMOS-compatible sensor) for point-of-care label-free, fast and low-cost diagnosis of sepsis (blood poisoning) bacteria strains and their antibiotic resistance. Currently diagnostics tools are too slow to make an impact on the all important first hours of patient treatment. By providing a diagnosis within an hour, the project is trying to solve this problem and enable targeted antibiotics treatment to both benefit patient recovery rates and prevent an increase in bacterial antibody resistance. The INTOPSENS system integrates two label-free biomolecular recognition photonic sensor technologies with sensitivities as low as 0.1ng per ml, state-of-the-art in label-free integrated optical biosensors, with novel coupling technology that will permit very high integration of hundreds of sensing areas on a 1mm² photonics chip.
     PHAST-ID – Robust, affordable photonic crystal sensors for point-of-care disease diagnostics (www.phastid.eu/): Point-of-care (PoC) testing is essential to provide better patient care by aiding physicians in making informed decisions during patient visits. A key challenge in the development of PoC diagnostic devices is the requirement for robust, rapid and simple assay formats with direct readout, coupled with small sensing areas (~10 × 10 μm) and low sample volumes (25 μl) that exhibit the same sensitivity as laboratory based tests. Phast-ID will address this challenge by developing an integrated multichannel 2D photonic crystal based disposable biosensor and bench top reader, for point-of-care disease diagnostic applications. The Phast-ID disposable sensor will demonstrate enhanced performance beyond the state of the art in key proteomic diagnostic systems by delivering direct robust label-free detection of four pancreatic cancer serum biomarkers at <100 fM (5 pg/ml) concentrations. Objective genetic algorithms will be developed for inferometric and chemometric pattern recognition to allow unequivocal identification of protein cancer biomarkers following collection of the data from the sensor platform. Phast-ID will provide a number of benefits over the current label-free commercial offerings in the PoC diagnostic markets: speed, cost and ease of use.

Figure 3. Fluorescent transporting proteins in human HEK cells, courtesy Prof. Fromm, University of Erlangen (Germany).


     PHOTONICS4LIFE – Photonics for Life (http://www.photonics4life.eu/) is a Network of Excellence (NoE) addressing the area of biophotonics R&D. It brings together top experts in the field of biophotonics with the aim of creating the critical mass needed in order to unleash its true potential in transforming the fields of healthcare and life sciences. The research activities of Photonics4Life include photonic technologies for the analysis of cell processes, non- and minimally invasive diagnosis, therapy and point-of-care diagnosis and optical micromanipulation and therapy.

 

Photonics for Security & Safety
Photonics is a key enabler for enhancing the safety and security of people, goods and the physical environment. It makes possible contactless sensing and imaging applications operating in various ranges of the light spectrum (from X-ray to Terahertz) that are sufficiently sensitive and precise to reliably detect potential hazards or dangerous situations.
     Safety applications include for instance fibre sensors for detecting structural defects in the built environment, environmental pollution or for serving as driver assistance systems (e.g. anti-collision, night-vision) to improve road safety. Security applications include biometrics and border security systems, video surveillance systems and equipment to detect dangerous and illegal goods.
     Low-cost, high-performance photonic sensors and detectors will emerge from advances in nano-structured materials and device innovation and their integration in multi-feature detector arrays with integrated data processing and control. These are the main R&D topics in safety and security which EU funded projects in the Photonics Unit are targeting. Actually, there are 8 running R&D projects receiving more than €17 million of EU funding.

Figure 4. Finger and iris biometrics rely on photonic sensors © Sagem.


 

Representative Examples
of R&D Projects in Photonics
for Security & Safety
DOTSENSE - Group III-nitride quantum dots as optical transducers for chemical sensors (www.dotsense.eu) develops Group III-nitride (InxGa1-xN) quantum dot (QD) and nanodisk (ND) ensembles as optical transducers for integration in chemical sensors to detect hydrogen, hydrocarbons and the pH-value in gaseous and liquid environments. The structural properties of QD and ND ensembles (size, alloy composition, number of layers, crystallographic orientation) are optimised to achieve maximum sensitivity of the photoluminescence properties (intensity and emission spectrum) to variations in the sensor surface potential. The optimised photonic transducers will be integrated with commercially available light emitters and detectors to implement different kinds of sensor systems. These prototypes will find applications in the field of aeronautics, with a potential to increase the safety and/or the economy of flying.
     SENSHY – Photonic sensing of hydrocarbons based on innovative mid infrared lasers (www.senshy.eu) develops novel application-grade GaSb based widely-tuneable lasers in the mid-infrared wavelength range (3.0 to 3.6 µm) for integration in photonic sensors to detect hydrocarbons in gases with high sensitivity. The project aims to overcome existing limitations and to enable room temperature continuous wave operation. Work ranges from epitaxial semiconductor growth via laser design and processing to mid infrared sensor development.
     ICU – Infrared Imaging Components for Use in Automotive Safety Applications (www.icu-eu.com) aims to develop a low-cost infrared night vision system that will detect a pedestrian or animal on the road for increasing road safety. ICU is developing innovative photonic components (infrared lens system, infrared bolometer array, a wafer-level vacuum package), matched to achieve optimum cost and performance, and the component assembly. The essential project novelty is infrared bolometer arrays made of a new, mono-crystalline SiGe/Si quantum well material, providing increased temperature coefficient of resistance and improved 1/f noise properties as compared to state-of-the-art infrared bolometers. The bolometers will be manufactured using heterogeneous 3D MEMS integration that is compatible with standard MEMS foundry services. A low-cost wafer-level vacuum packaging process will be also developed which can consistently achieve vacuum levels in the sealed cavities on the order of 0.001 mbar. The system will be the first application of multilevel diffractive optics in FIR, with the added feature that the optics can be integrated in the package using MEMS-based 1st level camera integration. Furthermore, the developed lenses will be compatible with low-cost processes and lens material.

 

Lighting, Displays and Organic Photovoltaics
Lighting: Solid state lighting (SSL) offers a cost-effective way to limit carbon dioxide emissions by reducing the amount of electricity consumed by lighting. SSL components and systems are based on inorganic and organic light emitting diodes (LEDs and OLEDs). SSL offers many attractive features when compared to other types of light sources: superior energy efficiency, better light quality, no toxic materials like mercury, flexible form factors, very long lifetimes, and the possibility of integration with intelligent lighting control systems for energy management and design features. SSL is set to replace current lighting systems in almost all applications: starting with automotive lighting, traffic lights, street lights and architectural lighting of building exteriors, it will continue with indoor lighting of offices, commercial and public buildings and homes.
     Today the biggest challenge for LED and OLED R&D is to improve quality and performance, namely functionality, luminance (brightness per unit area), efficacy (lumens/Watt), and intelligent light management, while reducing cost. In particular, performance needs for applications in lighting and ‘light engines’ (i.e. LED with driver electronics, optics and thermal management) point to a number of main technological challenges such as: high brightness, efficacy above 130 lm/W, high CRI (colour rendering index), and consistent colour over 25,000 hours; tuneable output spectrum and adaptable light output level; novel approaches to white components (e.g. new phosphors, monolithic sources, hybrid approaches); new encapsulation methods to achieve flexible shapes and ad hoc manufacturing for cheaper or better tailored to the end user needs device.
     Displays: The flat panel display (FPD) market based mainly on liquid crystal displays (LCDs) is mainly dominated by Asian manufacturers, but some key elements of the supply chain such as materials are based in Europe. In the last few years, alternative technologies such as OLEDs and electrophoretic displays (EPDs) are starting to enter the market as well. These offer Europe a chance to become competitive in a few applications such as micro-displays (OLED on CMOS) and in cheap, large area printed displays and signage.

Figure 5. OLED light sources @Philips.

     The main R&D focus is to produce a display that is flexible, durable, low cost, and also provides adequate resolution, contrast, colour, viewing angle, and switching speed. Research challenges address advanced displays, efficient solid state laser sources and green lasers, efficient and compact laser-based engines for display (e.g. projection, laser TV), and LED backlighting modules for displays.
     Organic Photovoltaics (OPVs): Crystalline Si cells are the dominant technology in photovoltaics and will continue to be for some time. In the last few years, there is an increasing interest in thin film cells that can be flexible, light in weight, low-cost and use less energy to manufacture, like for example OPVs. OPVs exhibit an inherent compatibility with low-cost roll-to-roll manufacturing, lack of scarce or toxic materials and potential for extremely low cost. Organic solar cells are expected to grow continuously in size and performance in the future.
     Significant progress is needed in OPV efficiency and lifetime in order to enable their long term use to replace conventional electricity generation. These are the two key challenges that R&D projects supported by the Photonics Unit are focusing on. Projects target further progress in power conversion efficiency to reach efficiencies in the order of 12–14% or more, but also higher charge carrier mobility, and further progress on the stability of materials and encapsulation and packaging aspects that would permit to reach lifetimes in the order of 5+ years (for consumer electronics) to 20+ years (for rooftop OPV systems).
     13 FP7 projects are supported in the fields of lighting, displays and OPVs receiving more than €50 million of EU funding.

Figure 6. Newer display technologies @Philips Lighting.


Representative Examples
of R&D Projects in
Lighting, Displays and OPVs
OLED100.EU – Organic LED Lighting in European Dimensions (http://www.oled100.eu) is one of the EU’s flagships in the field of lighting. It aims at developing all the necessary technologies forming the basis for efficient OLED applications for the general lighting industry in Europe. OLEDs will have to compete with existing and upcoming lighting solutions achieving power efficacies of up to 100 lm/W (fluorescent tubes) and operational lifetimes of up to 100.000 hours (inorganic LEDs). In addition, OLEDs have to make use of their revolutionary form factor allowing flat light sources covering square metres. This translates to the five main objectives of the project: high power efficacy (100 lm/W), long lifetime (100.000 h), large area (100 × 100 cm²), low-cost (100 Euro/m²), system integration/standardisation/application. In the first deliverable of the project architectural and aesthetical research was performed to identify most suitable market entry parameters. It turned out that a suitable OLED tile size could be 15 cm × 15 cm pitch size and multiples thereof. Several room models were built with a ceiling illumination completely made of OLEDs.
     AEVIOM – Advanced Experimentally Validated Integrated OLED Model for a breakthrough in high-performance OLED technology (http://aeviom.temp.scheepens.nl/) is a research project aiming to enable a breakthrough in white OLED efficiency and lifetime and manufacturing costs by the development and application of an integrated “second-generation” organic light emitting diode (OLED) device model. The project is developing a powerful numerical simulation tool which includes the entire chain of electrical and optical effects inside the disordered organic semiconductor material.
     HIFLEX – Highly Flexible Printed ITO-free OPV Modules (http://www.hiflexopv.eu) aims to develop a cost-effective highly flexible printed solution processable ITO-free OPV module technology by using scalable, reproducible and commercially viable large-area printing and coating techniques, such as roll-to-roll. Such OPV modules match the particular requirements of mobile and remote ICT applications in terms of efficiency under different light conditions, lifetime, cost structure, power to weight ratio and mechanical flexibility.

 

Photonic Integration Platforms
Integration technologies are the main route to photonic devices that combine higher cost-effectiveness with higher functionality, miniaturisation and energy effectiveness. Photonic integration platforms in particular aim at following the related development model of the microelectronics industry. These platforms should enable the cost effective production of complex Photonics Integrated Circuits (PICs) containing a large number of active and passive photonic components. They will be based on generic manufacturing processes suited for chip and wafer-scale integration, and exploit different material systems (e.g. Indium Phosphide – InP, silicon, dielectrics) and integration concepts (monolithic, heterogeneous or hybrid). Device design will be supported by generic design methodologies and tools based on standard building blocks (components) and design rules.
     Integration platforms seem to be the most effective way to meet future cost and performance demands and keep volume fabrication of key photonic devices in Europe. Main R&D priorities include: generic integration technology, building blocks and design tools; miniaturisation, performance increase, power reduction; extended functionality and wavelength ranges through new component/device concepts and integration of new materials; and complementing the optical functionality with electronics.
     The photonics unit currently supports 3 projects focussing on photonic integration platforms with over €17 million of EU funding. Furthermore, work on PICs plays a significant role in many application-oriented projects from other calls, notably in 10 such projects receiving some €28 million of EU funding, mostly in data communications and some in imaging.

 

Representative Example of R&D Projects
Focussing on ‘Photonic Integration Platforms’
HELIOS – pHotonics ELectronics functional Integration on CMOS – will demonstrate different routes for integrating photonics with CMOS electronics. It will deliver an integrated design and fabrication chain with generic processes that could be transferred to foundries. The project will develop high performance generic building blocks that can be used for a broad range of applications, e.g. WDM sources, fast modulators and detectors, passive circuits and packaging. HELIOS will address the whole fabrication chain for complex devices, exploring the hybrid integration of InP technology on CMOS electronics as well as some alternative approaches for realising active photonic functions in silicon platforms. The R&D will be complemented by roadmapping and training activities to prepare the ground for a wider uptake of silicon/CMOS photonics.
     PARADIGM – Photonic Advanced Research And Development for Integrated Generic Manufacturing – aims to effect a fundamental change in the way InP-based PICs are designed and manufactured in Europe. It will reduce the costs of design, development and manufacture by more than an order of magnitude and make more complex and capable designs possible than ever before. The key step is to develop a generic platform technology for application-specific PICs. PARADIGM will establish library-based design, coupled with standardised technology process flows and supported by sophisticated design tools. The project will verify the potential of the generic approach by fabricating a number of InP PICs, addressing a range of applications in communications, sensors, data processing and biomedical systems.
     PhotonFAB - Silicon Photonic IC Fabless Access Broker (http://www.photonfab.eu/) is a support action that facilitates access to advanced CMOS-oriented centres of expertise and foundries for research and prototyping of silicon photonic integrated circuits. The related foundry services are marketed under the ePIXfab brand name (www.epixfab.eu). ePIXfab organises 3–4 multi-project wafer runs per year, which lowers considerably the barrier for bringing photonic IC technology to the market place. In addition, the project engages in a roadmapping exercise to further develop the technical, legal, financial and operational elements of cost-shared access to silicon fabs and beyond. By including other services along the supply chain, from device design to packaging, the roadmap aims to prepare the ground for fabless prototyping and small batch production of silicon photonics IC.
     Some highlights from the work done by PhotonFAB on all-optical, high-speed signal processing with silicon-organic hybrid slot waveguides and tuneable optical forces between nanophotonic waveguides have been published in Nature Photonics [9].

 

Nanophotonics
Nanophotonics is the emerging science of light-matter interactions at nanometre/sub-wavelength scale, down to molecular scale. It exploits the unique physical and chemical properties of organic and inorganic materials at these scales, enabling new photonic functions and more compact, cheap and energy efficient devices. Nanophotonics can already provide solutions for telecommunications, sensing, life science, lightings and photovoltaics. However, this is just the beginning and more research is needed to unlock its full potential.
     Main challenges for nanophotonics R&D include: developing new photonic nanostructures and materials such as organic and inorganic nanocrystals and quantum dots, plasmonic structures and materials, hybrid nanocomposites, and carbon nano/molecular structures like nanotubes and graphene; mastering of the related manufacturing processes including self-assembly or top-down processes at nanometer scale; exploiting these technologies in new or better photonic devices like high bandwidth, high speed and ultra-small communication components, size tuneable emitters, single photon emitters, more efficient solar cells, and highly integrated/high-performance PICs.
     In the Photonics Unit, there are 9 nano-photonics projects (more than €22 million of EU funding) stemming from a specific call on disruptive photonic technologies. Furthermore, nanophotonics plays a significant role in some application oriented projects from other calls, notably in 3 such projects receiving around €14 million of EU funding.

 

Representative Examples of
R&D Projects in Nanophotonics
Nanophotonics4Energy (http://www.nanophotonics4energy.eu/) aims to create a virtual centre of excellence to re-orient and to focus the nanophotonics research of its members towards the challenges in energy efficient applications (mainly lighting and solar cell technology). The project supports the following main directions of work: fostering collaborations among the leading European research groups in nanophotonics for energy efficiency, interchanging knowledge and best practices, and paving the way towards the establishment of common research agendas; and, promoting education and training specially geared towards young researchers and technicians – both on S&T issues as well as on complementary skills like communication, business, entrepreneurial or IPR skills – and dissemination towards the scientific community, industry, and the public in general. The consortium consolidates know-how and resources of 9 different institutions in 6 European countries with complementary research and development expertise, integrating more than 130 scientists, engineers, technicians and managers in nanophotonics.
     PRIMA – Plasmon Resonance for IMproving the Absorption of solar cells aims to investigate the use of metal nanostructures to enhance the optical absorption of light into different types of solar cells (e.g. crystalline Si, high performance III-V, organic and dye-sensitized solar cells) and the ease of integrating them into existing process flows for solar cells in order to obtain thinner and therefore less expensive solar cells. From a more fundamental point of view the possible plasmonic enhancement mechanisms are studied in detail using calculations and experiments on structures with different degrees of complexity. The final goal of the project will be to examine industrially relevant structures, integrate them into solar cells and test their performance. In particular, the performance will be benchmarked and assessed by solar cell companies that are participating in the project.
     See also project DOTSENSE in section Security & Safety as an example for application oriented projects where nanophotonics plays a significant role.

 

Additional Support Actions
In addition to research, EU promotes so-called coordination and support actions (CSA), which aim at better structuring and coordinating the research activities of the Photonics stakeholders.
     The coordination action PHORCE21 has successfully established the European Technology platform Photonics21 as explained above. The support actions PHOTONICROADSME (http://www.photonicroad.eu) and the recently started NEXPRESSO (http://www.nexpresso.eu/) and ACTMOST (http://www.actmost.eu/) strive to give access to knowledge, equipment and costly manufacturing processes in particular to SMEs. The photonics industry in Europe faces a significant shortage of skills. The number of students relevant to the photonics industry and their training in an industrial environment needs to be strongly increased. This is the target of the recently started EXPEKT support action (http://www.photonicsexplorer.eu/). Moreover, Photonics21 launched a student innovation award and a scheme for companies to offer internships to students.

 

The Way Forward
As described in the previous sections, Photonics gets large support under FP7. More than €300 million will have been invested in photonics research in the period from 2007 to 2012, just in the ICT part of FP7, while photonics also features in several other FP7 programmes. Moreover, the European Commission, recognising the key role that photonics play today in providing innovative products and services for main societal challenges as globalisation, climate change or an ageing society, has included photonics as one of the key enabling technologies in a communication which was adopted in September 2009 [10].
     The move towards a more smart and sustainable growth and an internet-driven society will continue to govern EU policies and drive economic and societal development for the decades to come. These are clearly spelled out in the new strategy of the EU for 2020 aiming to develop an economy that is based on knowledge and innovation (smart growth); promote a more resource efficient, greener and competitive economy (sustainable growth); and, foster a high employment economy (inclusive growth).
     Photonics technologies can play a major role in the implementation of the EU 2020 strategy. They can move communications into the terabit era by dramatically increasing data capacity and data transmission speeds while reducing the networks’ carbon footprint and the overall cost per bit. They can overcome the limitations of electronics in computers through all-optical computing. They can revolutionise healthcare and provide new ways of detecting, treating and preventing cancer and other serious illnesses. They can also play a key role in addressing other grand challenges such as energy efficiency and moving to a low-carbon economy.
     All these call for new, ground-breaking photonics research and for fresh innovation strategies. The challenge for Europe is to make sure that it continues to be in the driving seat of photonics scientific advances, that it promotes and supports the wide market deployment of photonics and thereby, that it leads the new markets which will be created in the next decade. These will be some of the EU’s main objectives when further supporting photonics in the remaining 2–3 years of FP7 and in the coming EU’s new research and innovation framework programme starting from 2014 onwards.

 

Acknowledgements
The authors would like to thank Anna Katrami and all the scientific officers of the EU’s Photonics Unit (http://cordis.europa.eu/fp7/ict/photonics/who_en.html), in particular Ronan Burgess, Christoph Helmrath, Michael Hohenbichler, Markus Korn, John Magan, Bart Van Caenegem and Michael Ziegler for their contributions to this paper.

 

Disclaimer
The views expressed in this paper are the sole responsibility of the authors and in no way represent the views of the European Commission or its services.

 

Biography
Thomas Skordas received his Electrical Engineering degree in 1984 from the University Aristotle of Thessaloniki, Greece, and a PhD in Computer Science in 1988, from the Institut National Polytechnique de Grenoble, France. From 1988 to 1995, he worked at Cap Gemini Sogeti as project leader in EU-funded R&D projects in the area Information Technology and Robotics.
     In 1995 Thomas joined the European Commission as a Scientific Officer in the Information Society Technologies Programme, part of the Directorate General Information Society & Media (DG INFSO). From 2003 to 2005 Thomas was part of the Future and Emerging Technologies Unit of DG INFSO, and from 2006 to 2009, he was Deputy Head of Unit in the DG INFSO’s Unit dealing with research in ICT Security and Trust.
     Thomas became Head of the Photonics Unit of DG INFSO in July 2009.
     Email: Thomas.Skordas@ec.europa.eu

 

Gabriella Leo studied Physics at University of Bari in Italy where she graduated in 1986. She received the PhD in Physics at University of Bari in 1992 for work on implantation damage in CdTe single crystals. From 1994 she is researcher at the National Research Council (CNR). At present she is at the Institute for the Study of Nanostructured Materials (ISMN) in Rome where she is responsible of the UHV-STM laboratory. She has been members of R&D project evaluation panels for the European Commission. Her current research activity encompasses the investigation of the morphological, optical and electronic properties of nanostructured materials and hybrid structure for optoelectronic, photonics and sensing application based on either Stransky-Krastanow semiconductor quantum dots and quantum wires or colloidal nanocrystals. She is author of 65 papers on international scientific journals.
     Since August 2008 she acts as national seconded expert (END) in the Photonics unit of Directorate General for Information Society and Media (D.G. INFSO) of the European Commission.

 

References

  1. The Photonics21 European Technology Platform: http://www.photonics21.com/
  2. An overview of Photonics Innovation Clusters and National Technology Platforms in Europe, European Commission, DG INFSO Unit G5 Photonics, June 2010: http://cordis.europa.eu/fp7/ict/photonics/clusters_en.html
  3. The Strategic Research Agenda of the Photonics21 European Technology Platform: http://www.photonics21.org/download/SRA_2010.pdf
  4. The EU’s 7th Research Framework Programme: http://cordis.europa.eu/fp7/home_en.html
  5. Information Society and Media Directorate-General: http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/information_society/index_en.htm
  6. http://cordis.europa.eu/fp7/cooperation/home_en.html
  7. The FP7 Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Programme: http://cordis.europa.eu/fp7/ict/
  8. Photonics research in FP7: http://cordis.europa.eu/photonics
  9. Nature Photonics 3, 216 – 219 (2009)
  10. COM(2009) 512/3, “Preparing for our future: Developing a common strategy for key enabling technologies in the EU”, September 2009, http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/sectors/ict/files/communication_key_enabling_technologies_en.pdf




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