China plans to use particle accelerators in chip production to avoid sanctions on EUV machines
September 29, 2023

China plans to use particle accelerators in chip production to avoid sanctions on EUV machines

Instead of traditional EUV lithography machines, China plans to use particle accelerators in chip production to avoid Western sanctions that limit its access to manufacturing equipment. In this way, China has the potential to position itself as a global leader in advanced chip manufacturing in an innovative way that could reshape the semiconductor industry, writes the South China Morning Post.

A particle accelerator is a machine that uses electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles to very high speeds and energies, while keeping them in well-defined beams. A Chinese research team from Tsinghua University is developing a unique laser source using particle accelerators.

Their goal is to bypass the limitations of conventional lithography machines, which are crucial in chip production. The proposed particle accelerator will be about the size of two basketball courts, between 100 and 150 meters in circumference, and will serve as a high-quality light source for chip production.

Professor Zhao Wu from Stanford University presented a basic technology called “steady-state microbunching” (SSMB). This technology captures the energy emitted by charged particles during acceleration, converting it into a continuous, pure EUV light source. Compared to Dutch firm ASML’s prevailing EUV method, SSMB reportedly boasts superior power and efficiency while potentially lowering chip manufacturing costs.

The SSMB-EUV light source was designed at Tsinghua University, with a projected EUV power of more than 1 kW, the research team said back in January 2022.

China’s ambitious project contrasts with the strategies of companies such as the Netherlands’ ASML, which focus on miniaturizing chip-making machines. Instead, China’s vision involves creating a giant factory housing several lithography machines, all focused on a single particle accelerator.

This design aims to enable competitive manufacturing processes such as 2nm and beyond, which will be used to make high-performance chips without the use of traditional scanners for extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography.

Project leader Professor Tang Chuangshiang says that experimental verification of the technology has been carried out, but it is necessary to build a solid SSMB device for researching light sources operating in the EUV range. After that, the device should be used for scientific and industrial purposes, as well as for the improvement of SSBM technology.

The scientific team has reportedly made significant progress in this area because, as the media reports, they have successfully tested the technology and are now looking for locations to build the project.

The project leader says there is still a long way to go to independently develop EUV lithography machines, but EUV light sources based on SSMB technology give China an alternative. That technology, however, requires constant technological innovation and collaboration with other industries to build a usable system.

If China succeeds in its intention, it will turn out that the moves of the United States of America to expel this country from the world of semiconductors were not only futile, but also counter-effective, as some analysts previously warned the USA.