New York state announced a partnership with IBM, Micron, and other industry players to invest $10 billion into expanding the Albany NanoTech Complex with a new cutting-edge High NA EUV Center that will drive the next decade of semiconductor technology innovations.
The computers powering our lives have become increasingly complex, requiring ever more powerful chips. For the last decade, the gold standard system for manufacturing chips has been EUV lithography machines built by ASML. They have allowed IBM and others to shrink the size of transistors down to just a few nanometers, tens of thousands of times thinner than a strand of hair. With these machines, IBM has shown a path for building chips from 7nm down to our latest innovations with 2nm nanosheet technology. The 2nm nanosheet technology allows for an impressive 50 billion transistors on a single chip the size of a fingernail.
But being able to print chip circuits at these miniscule sizes requires a resolution of laser so precise that even the current crop of machines would struggle to do so in a way that’s conducive to mass production. And as progress continues in technologies like generative AI, there’s no doubt that we’re going to need ever more powerful chips sooner rather than later. To build those, we need new tools that are capable of printing even smaller features and an ecosystem to make it a reality.
Today, New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced the creation of the High NA EUV Center at the Albany NanoTech Complex, a cutting-edge semiconductor research facility where IBM is one of the key members. This will be North America’s first and only publicly owned research and development center with a high-numerical aperture extreme ultraviolet lithography (High NA EUV) system. This machine from ASML can perform a new technique that could pave the way to developing and producing chips at nodes even smaller than 2nm. The machine uses lasers beyond the ultraviolet end of the spectrum to etch pathways for circuity at a minute scale.
The new system will be housed within the Albany NanoTech Complex, where IBM, New York State, and a host of industry and academic partners have been inventing the future of semiconductors for over two decades.
New York state and the industry partners will invest $10 billion to establish the High NA EUV Center, which will include building a new facility at the Albany NanoTech Complex, called NanoFab Reflection, and purchasing ASML’s 5200 High NA EUV equipment. The investments will also support the expansion of the already thriving ecosystem and continue the site's ability to push the bounds of what’s possible for computing.
NanoFab Reflection will contain 50,000 square feet of new clean-room space which has the potential to create a large injection of jobs into the region, while creating a future for semiconductor research and production in the US. The complex will break ground on the new building in 2024.
IBM will play a major role in keeping the tool up and running, as well as working with partners at the center to set up the new High NA EUV machine to produce more advanced chips.
Nearly a decade ago, IBM Research used one of the first EUV machines in the world, located at the same complex in Albany, to design processes that would ensure EUV lithography could be used to produce advanced chips at scale, first for 7 nm and then 5 nm chip processes. The current system in Albany was installed in 2020 and was key in IBM’s development of the world’s first 2 nm node chip in 2021.
The creation of the High NA EUV Center means IBM will be among the first in the world to make use of this powerful new tool — and that some of the most innovative companies and institutions from around the world will now also have access to the newest semiconductor tools for their research. Existing NanoTech Complex members, including Tokyo Electron and Applied Materials, will join international partners like Japan’s Rapidus in gaining access to the new EUV machine.
Albany NanoTech’s new EUV tool will be the same as future High NA EUV tools when they’re installed in manufacturing facilities. This will help ensure that the processes and designs invented at Albany NanoTech will be able to be embedded in future generations of electronic devices.
The public-private ecosystem at Albany NanoTech is one of the key ways the center is unique. “These expanded partnerships represent a powerful new shared platform for global technology development and will serve as a basis for expanded international cooperation among the U.S. and its allies,” Hochul’s office said in a release.
Laser-based lithography has been key to designing and producing chips at scale for decades. Existing EUV machines, though they have supported the last decade of semiconductor process development, can’t hit the resolution needed for sub-2nm nodes to be patterned into chips in a way that would be conducive to mass production. The machines can get that precise — which is how IBM developed the first working 2nm node — but it takes three or four exposures from the EUV light to do it, rather than a single exposure. This, along with other issues associated with shrinking feature sizes, meant that researchers needed to consider a new method. The solution is what’s called high numerical aperture (or high NA) EUV lithography.
This new method is functionally the same physical process as EUV lithography, but as the name suggests, the optics are larger and support higher-resolution patterns to be printed on the wafer. If you’ve ever used a professional camera, you’ll know that increasing the numerical aperture results in a sharper focus, but that also means a shallower depth of focus. The same is true with high NA EUV lithography.
Researchers will have to ensure that the photoresistive materials used in the lithography can actually resolve at these smaller dimensions, and tackle the challenges that a shallower focus depth can produce. There can’t be any blurring in the pattern, for example, as that would result in imprecisely etched chips. Additionally, the masks used to print these patterns must also evolve to support these smaller features. The high NA EUV would be an even more complex machine than the first generation of EUV, and learning how to harness it will fuel the next decade of semiconductor innovation.
Just as EUV required the ecosystem to come together, deep collaboration and partnership will be required to bring high NA EUV lithography to production. The high NA EUV Center at the Albany NanoTech Complex will be a catalyst to spur what’s next in semiconductors.