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Intel and Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany Fund Semiconductor Research for a Sustainable Future

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  • Intel and Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany plan to provide joint funding for a collaborative research program to harness and augment state-of-the-art artificial intelligence for breakthroughs in more sustainable semiconductor processes and manufacturing technologies.
  • As one of the world's leading semiconductor design and manufacturing companies, Intel is in a unique position to make a difference that extends beyond its own operations and is invested in pursuing innovative solutions for a brighter future.
  • This research venture is intended to support sustainability along the entire semiconductor value chain.


As part of the team responsible for driving technical leaps in materials and process innovation, we recognize the need to solve for exponential growth in compute and data while simultaneously addressing key challenges around energy efficiency and sustainability. It is also very clear that these are challenges that any one company cannot face alone – we need to partner together to drive the next generation of *sustainable* innovations. In honor of Earth Day on the 22nd, I’m pleased to share with you a new program we are kicking off with a key partner, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. I’m excited about what we can do together and how those results will benefit more than our two companies. Please read below to find out more!


A Sustainable Future

As one of the world’s leading semiconductor design and manufacturing companies, Intel is uniquely positioned to drive global sustainability and greenhouse gas reduction, through its own actions, through valuable collaborations, and by empowering the technology ecosystem. Addressing the apparent causes of climate change is something that no one company can tackle alone. As such, Intel is excited to announce a plan to collaborate with Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, a leading science and technology company, to fund an academic research program designed to enable more sustainable semiconductor manufacturing solutions. Specifically, the companies have signed a memorandum of understanding for a Europe-based program that will focus on leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies to further innovation in industry manufacturing processes and technologies. The planned program will run for three years.

“Semiconductors are the basis for most of our everyday electronic devices and demand is increasing worldwide. Manufacturing is very energy and resource intensive and practically calls for sustainable innovations. Identifying these cutting-edge practices and technologies while ensuring the stable performance of chips that are becoming smaller and more sensitive is crucial. Artificial intelligence can open up completely new avenues for us here” said Dr. Beate Burkhart, Head of Materials Innovation Pipeline at the Electronics business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, adding, “we believe in the benefits of multidisciplinary collaboration to achieve innovative breakthroughs and positively change the entire industry. That's why we will also make the results freely available as open source.”

Intel is committed to augmenting our academic research engagements in Europe. We believe that European public and private collaborations can be effectively forged to enhance such research through a pooling of resources and capabilities while leveraging diverse talent and perspectives. Successful, groundbreaking research on cutting-edge Industry challenges will build on European academic excellence while attracting and developing the next generation of European Industry leaders. The Intel-Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany collaboration is a great example of such an approach and should serve as a blueprint for future endeavours. Beginning in Q2 of 2023, suitable Europe-based research groups will be invited to apply for funding through a joint Call-for Proposals process. Potential solutions could include environmentally friendlier materials, more efficient use of resources, AI-based solutions for modelling chemical processes, and opportunities for waste and emissions reductions.

Intel recognizes the importance and potential impact that developing and applying advanced AI techniques can have, bringing about much-changed materials innovation. Leveraging AI for materials discovery will require compute capabilities to not only train and deploy advanced AI models but also to acquire and manage the vast amount of heterogenous data involved in the complex workflow. This makes the application of state-of-the-art AI algorithms to effectively manage data and train advanced models extremely valuable in being able to create and deploy advanced AI systems at the required scale. Through research and development at Intel Labs, Intel continues to develop novel algorithmic capabilities to address many computational and software challenges and disseminate them to the community via publication and open-source software releases. One such example is the Open MatSci ML Toolkit, which was released by Intel Labs at the end of last year to help AI researchers train advanced AI models more effectively on materials science data in a robust and scalable manner regardless of the hardware platform used. As such, the Open MatSci ML Toolkit can take advantage of state-of-the-art hardware for AI model training and deployments, such as Intel Scalable Xeon and AI accelerators like Habana Gaudi, in a streamlined and easy-to-use manner.

“More sustainable solutions for semiconductor process technology are important for the planet and benefit from collaboration throughout the value chain. New fundamental insights, methodologies and tools are needed—from material and process technology research and development through high-volume manufacturing,” said David Nessim, Program Manager at Intel Corporation. “The time is ripe to responsibly harness and accelerate the potential of AI to continue to deliver innovative pathways and breakthrough solutions. We look forward to engaging European academic excellence and government support for the success of these ambitious goals.”


Sustainable Innovations Through Cooperation and Artificial Intelligence

The joint research program will focus on new technologies and partnerships. For example, developing new artificial intelligence programs with analytical capabilities to identify innovation potential. Intel and Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany will work directly with the awarded research groups during the program period, engaging closely with faculty and students. University and other public co-funding, including European Government support, will be sought to support the ambitious, multi-disciplinary scope and goals of the program.

Intel, as a leading technology company, and Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, as a major supplier of materials and components for chip manufacturing, each recognize that reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions will require significant research and development and long-term innovation and are fully committed to doing their part to address climate change. Thus, this program will focus on sustainability along the entire semiconductor value chain. Both companies are also members of the "Semiconductor Climate Consortium" founded in November 2022.


Intel’s Net-Zero Greenhouse Gas Commitment

As part of its goal to achieve net-zero greenhouse gases across its operations by 2040, Intel is also committed to addressing climate impacts throughout its upstream and downstream value chain, also known as Scope 3 emissions. Intel’s Scope 3 strategy focuses on partnering with suppliers and customers to take aggressive action to reduce overall emissions. Although this will be a challenging endeavor, it offers the potential to be the most impactful.


“Chemistry is critical to our industry — innovating to meet future regulatory impacts with greener and safer chemistry is imperative. A key part of our greenhouse gas footprint is the chemicals we use in our processes, many of which have spent 20 to 40 years in development. Finding suitable replacements for those could take a long time. This challenge isn’t unique to Intel. Our peers across the semiconductor manufacturing industry face it, too. That’s why we’ve committed to a cross-industry R&D initiative to identify greener chemicals.

There are unknowns for all our goals, but solving seemingly impossible challenges is what Intel does best. And we are very realistic about the challenges that lie ahead. We also know that no company can mitigate climate change on its own and we can only succeed if we learn and improve together.”

- Ann Kelleher, executive VP and General Manager of Technology Development at Intel, quoted in Intel’s Challenge: Net-Zero GHGs Across Operations.


Protecting our planet demands immediate action and fresh thinking about how the world operates, and Intel is in a unique position to make a difference that extends far beyond its own operations. As such, Intel is bringing together multiple internal groups for the first time in this collective effort and is actively engaged with its suppliers to identify areas of improvement, including increasing supplier focus on energy conservation and renewable energy sourcing, increasing chemical and resource efficiencies, and leading cross-industry consortia to support the transition to a net-zero greenhouse gas semiconductor manufacturing value chain.

About the Author
Carolyn R. Duran is a Vice President and Engineering Manager in Components Research at Intel Corporation. In this role, Carolyn leads advanced process and materials research to invent, develop and demonstrate viable revolutionary technologies necessary for Intel’s continued leadership in the industry. Over her 24-year career, Duran’s scope has spanned technology development, supply chain, including responsible minerals, and a corporate charter enabling memory and IO technologies in the product groups. Duran is currently serving as the Immediate Past President of the Materials Research Society and is an adjunct professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern University. A recognized industry leader, Duran was named on Fast Company's "Most Creative People in Business 1000" list in 2016 and ranked no. 2 on Business Insider's "Most Powerful Women Engineers in the World" list in 2014. Duran received her bachelor’s degree in materials science and engineering from Carnegie Mellon University and her Ph.D. in the same field from Northwestern University. She holds five patents in the area of semiconductor process engineering.