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Organized by the Netherlands Office Taipei, the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) and Photonics Industry & Technology Development Association (PIDA), the third Taiwan-Netherlands Innovation Cooperation Conference took place on September 23, focusing on compound semiconductors. 

The event gathered prominent leaders in compound semiconductors from both Taiwan and The Netherlands, including NXP Semiconductors, WIN Semiconductors, PhotonDelta and Chip Integration Technology Center (CITC).

Compound semiconductors such as Gallium Arsenide (GaAs), Silicon Carbide (SiC) and Gallium Nitride (GaN) have recently increased in strategic importance, given their growing roles in several fields, including electric vehicles, 5G, satellite communications and data centers.

According to Kenneth Tai, the Chairman of PIDA and also a co-founder of Acer, Taiwan was not a pioneer in compound semiconductors, but would be a really quick follower. He pointed out Taiwan’s strong and highly integrated semiconductor supply chain as its advantage in cooperating with international partners , especially when volume production is needed to bring affordable products to market. Tai also mentioned Taiwan’s rising EV industry as a promising driver for compound semiconductor applications, especially when Foxconn initiated the MIH Alliance and multiple Taiwanese manufacturers are already Tesla suppliers.

Photonic integration high on agenda 

Ewit Roos, the General Manager of PhotonDelta, an accelerator for the integrated photonics industry, identified photonic ICs as a key enabling technology that would drive the application of compound semiconductors. Roos considered co-packaging and optical integration to be a major challenge in this sector, especially the ability to mix and match optimized functions to offer the best and affordable solutions to customers – an observation shared by all participants, including  Doeco Terpstra, NXP’s VP, and Barry Peet, the General Manager of CITC. Both of them also echoed the industrial consensus that current CMOS-based production equipment poses a challenge to handle the new materials involved in compound semiconductors and photonic integration. 

Photonic integration especially has serious implications to semiconductor supply chains, according to Roos. In this regard, Roos saw Taiwan and the Netherlands’ potential to cooperate and find a solution, coming their expertises on CMOS process and photonics. 

Chuck Huang, the Senior Vice President of Taiwan’s Win Semiconductors, the world’s largest pure-play GaAs foundry with a global market share above 70%, sees a lot of cooperation opportunities between the Netherlands and Taiwan, especially when Taiwan’s current compound semiconductor-oriented chip design sector is still dominated by GaAs. 

Drawing inspiration from the automotive industry, Roos compared an ideal collaboration process to the making of a “concept car” – even if the “concept car” would never be realised, the involvement of all suppliers would stretch the involved technologies to the limit, and in the process demonstrating what they could do. Often, real application scenarios would spring from such collaborative processes. 

Such a “concept car”, according to him, should be the first step of Dutch-Taiwanese cooperation in compound semiconductors.