Changing the world for the better, using novel technologies!


Changing the world for the better, using novel technologies!

Photonics – The computer chip industry’s new alternative

The next technological leap in the computer chip industry involves connecting chips to form vast networks. The challenge is that the interconnection of the chips must allow for the transport of very large volumes of data without any bottlenecks, spanning distances from meters to kilometers. Despite an investment of hundreds of billions of euros and extremely complex, sophisticated manufacturing, our current technology cannot do this. Comparable to the effect of introducing optical technologies into the infrastructure of the Internet, the powerful networking of individual chips is made possible through optical engineering. This paradigm shift is creating a very large market opportunity for photonic systems – made in the EU.

The 500-billion-euro semiconductor industry is currently at a turning point and is seeking new technology and architectures to further improve the performance of computer chips. Impacted by significant geopolitical upheavals, the computer industry is experiencing exponential growth in the demand for information processing and data communication. At the same time, the chip industry is facing major obstacles in the manufacture of ever faster microprocessors. The primary obstacle is that the existing strategy of downscaling is coming ever closer to its physical limits and will ultimately come to an end. Even the investment of many hundreds of billions of euros will not change this underlying situation.

Beyond a certain point, transistors can no longer be scaled down and packed more densely. One way to circumvent this problem is to link multiple chips. This increases the number of transistors, which yields the desired increase in performance. The problem with this strategy—which is already in use today—is the limited bandwidth and range of electrical connections between these chips. These constraints determine the performance and power consumption of the entire system.

The future lies in scaling up, not down

The way out of this technological-physical impasse is based on more than 10 years of research and industry-leading innovation by the employees at Black Semiconductor. Instead of investing billions of dollars in reducing the size of transistors so as to increase the number of transistors in the system, the goal of Black Semiconductor is to add more transistors through the optical networking of chips.

The optical networking of chips to form chip fabrics makes it possible to create systems that are fundamentally independent from problems of transistor downscaling. This ensures independence from the established, yet very cost-intensive procedure of scaling transistors. It offers a technological advantage compared to electrical connections, as optical communication allows much larger volumes of data to be transported over a much greater distance. The high bandwidth eliminates the limitations of individual chips and creates a vast network consisting of multiple chips. Because of optical fiber technology, it is possible to bridge distances of meters or kilometers, a feat that was previously impossible with purely electrical technology.

In this way, photonically connected chip networks elegantly circumvent the scaling problem. It also does not matter which manufacturing technology is used to create the networked chips. As such, older technology nodes, which are significantly cheaper, can be used for new purposes. Thanks to the optical technology, chip fabrics can take on the dimensions of computer racks or even data centers without bandwidth limitations. They thus open up the possibility of significantly increasing the performance requirements of data centers in the coming decades. So instead of scaling down, the future is about scaling up!

The semiconductor industry has been trying to integrate photonics into existing electronic systems for decades but has failed because the materials are largely incompatible. Black Semiconductor is taking a new approach and opening the door to optical interconnectivity via a photonic layer on electronic chips. This new technology is made possible by using graphene, a material made up of a single layer of carbon atoms. Graphene has optical properties that surpass those of previously known materials and is compatible with existing electronic technology. It is possible to equip either the latest electronic technology or older technologies, or even memory technology, with an optical interface. This would reduce or even eliminate reliance on the extremely high research and production costs for smaller chip designs and the small number of manufacturers available worldwide, who are also not based in Europe.

Europe once again at the forefront of the semiconductor industry

The chip market involving high-speed optical interconnects is estimated to be worth hundreds of billions of euros and encompasses applications in data centers and the automotive industry, such as AI for CPUs and GPUs. Future applications in the field of AI are also critically dependent on the use of technologies that go far beyond the capabilities of current technology.

The semiconductor industry is looking for alternatives to the foreseeable demise of scaling. It goes without saying that innovative technologies and architectures represent the next leap forward in the future of computing. It is also crystal clear that light is by far the more powerful method for data transmission compared to electricity.

A major strategic opportunity is emerging for Europe as fundamental changes reverberate throughout the semiconductor industry. Europe possesses both strong capacities and competencies in the research and manufacturing of components and equipment. Photonic technologies and the material graphene have been and are still being systematically researched and new technology developed. Overall, this creates a very favorable starting point to further improve the fundamentals of semiconductor technology and expand competencies, and moreover to achieve technological supremacy in manufacturing.

The paradigm shift from downscaling transistors to photonic chip fabrics provides a flexible approach to accelerate performance. This will generate high demand for photonic systems, triggering R&D, the mass production of components, and the licensing of products and solutions. The outcome is a major advance in a fundamentally innovative chip technology – made in the EU.

Dr.-Ing. Daniel Schall

Founder and CEO

About Black Semiconductor GmbH

Black Semiconductor is a growing European semiconductor company, developing photonic systems to enhance the performance of existing technologies beyond the current physical barriers.