Building the future of electronics

In our daily lives, we heavily rely on electronics for work and personal efficiency. However, this dependence poses significant environmental, technological, and supply challenges. Holst Centre addresses these challenges by providing advanced technological building blocks to the industry. Through innovation, we aim to encourage responsible and sustainable use of electronic technologies.  

Electronic devices are indispensable in our lives, offering convenience and efficiency. However, we face a critical juncture where we must prioritize sustainability in electronics, for three important reasons.   

First of all, electronics are evolving to be smarter and more compact, incorporating AI applications that demand faster and advanced chips and packaging. This complexity drives the need for continual innovation. Secondly,  the global tech boom and shorter lifespans of electronics have led to a surge in e-waste. Discarded devices pose significant health and environmental threats, contributing to global warming, pollution, resource scarcity, and energy crises.  And third: Europe's digitalization and AI strategy are at risk due to reliance on foreign supply chains for chips, materials, and components. Strengthening domestic capabilities is essential for strategic independence and security.  

Addressing these challenges is essential to ensure a sustainable and resilient digital future.  

Sustainable electronics  

At Holst Centre, we leverage the combined expertise of imec and TNO to develop technology building blocks that ensure the future sustainability of electronics. With over 10 years of experience in hybrid & printed electronics (HPE), we offer significant environmental benefits across all lifecycle phases.  

Corne Rentrop, Project Manager at TNO at Holst Centre, highlights the advantages of HPE, emphasizing its environmental benefits compared to conventional PCB technology. “By adopting hybrid printed electronics, clients take a substantial step towards sustainability, redesigning products and manufacturing processes to enhance value creation while reducing environmental impact.”  

Holst Centre collaborates with clients to integrate printed electronics into their use cases, encouraging innovative product design, and optimizing manufacturing, disassembly, and recycling strategies for sustainable value creation.  

Corne Rentrop, Project Manager at TNO at Holst Centre

Biodegradable health patches  

HPE and 3D printing techniques are revolutionizing the design and manufacturing of electronics, offering both environmental advantages and enhanced design flexibility. HPE allows electronics to be integrated directly into the structure of a part or device, offering customized capabilities tailored to specific needs. Corne Rentrop explains the potential of combining these techniques to create custom-designed electronics. “In automotive applications, manufacturers can integrate electronics into interior body panels, unlocking new functionalities and reducing complexity. Similarly, in healthcare – a sector known for its environmental impact due to single-use products and packaging – printed electronics offer sustainable alternatives. For instance, using biodegradable materials for health patches can mitigate waste and enhance recyclability, presenting a scalable solution for reducing environmental impact globally.”  


Low-power electronics  

Mario Konijnenburg, R&D Manager of imec at Holst Centre, highlights the ongoing efforts in the electronics industry to enhance processing capacity while reducing power consumption. “In the lifecycle of electronics, power consumption during usage significantly impacts environmental footprint. Edge AI, which processes data locally instead of relying on cloud-based data, shows promise in further reducing this footprint by enabling faster data processing with reduced power consumption. At Holst Centre, we are developing chips with increased efficiency to support low-power electronics. Our latest ultra-low-power UWB (Ultra-Wideband) chip consumes significant less power than current state-of-the-art solutions, demonstrating our commitment to sustainable technology advancement.”  

Mario Konijnenburg, R&D Manager of imec at Holst Centre

First outlook towards the future: advanced chip design

Guido Dolmans, Scientific Director of imec at Holst Centre, anticipates a significant role for Holst Centre in the future trend of chip design and packaging within electronics. He emphasizes that chip design holds the greatest added value in the semiconductor industry's value chain. “The upcoming years will witness new chip architectures facilitating device miniaturization and enhanced local processing power, particularly for AI applications demanding extensive memory capabilities. Advanced chip designs, incorporating 3D stacking, enable compute-in-memory (CiM) functionalities. This innovative approach integrates processing and memory functions within the same structure, reducing the need for data movement and providing faster and more efficient access to stored data.” Leading OEMs are already spearheading the development of advanced 3D stacking technologies tailored for high-performance AI chips, highlighting the industry's commitment to innovation and efficiency. Guido Dolmans foresees Holst Centre's pivotal role in advancing these technologies to meet future electronics demands.  


Second outlook towards the future: chips designed using AI   

Holst Centre specialises in advanced chip packaging for both electronic and photonic applications, leveraging expertise in combining photonic chips of different materials and integrating photonics with electronics. According to Guido Dolmans, this capability enables the creation of building blocks for electronics with next-level performance and low power consumption.  

Looking ahead, Dolmans anticipates a significant evolution in advanced chip design driven by AI. “While software programmers currently use AI for coding and bug identification, future developments will include AI-powered design tools for optimizing chip designs. These tools will play a crucial role in shaping the next generations of chips, reflecting on-going advancements at the intersection of AI and semiconductor technologies.”  

Guido Dolmans, Scientific Director of imec at Holst Centre

Promising applications  

Holst Centre is at the forefront of developing state-of-the-art chips and electronics with applications across various domains. Guido Dolmans highlights the focus on sensing applications in healthcare, Internet of Things (IoT), and automotive. “Holst Centre leverages radar sensing with UWB technology for localization, distance measurement, and wireless communication. This technology holds promise for autonomous vehicles, IoT devices, and robotics applications, offering a versatile and efficient solution compared to traditional camera and Lidar systems.”  

In the healthcare domain, Holst Centre plays a vital role in advancing electronics for monitoring and controlling body functions. Mario Konijnenberg underscores the growing trend towards in-body devices that unravel brain functions and neuronal disorders. “Neural probes, small brain implants equipped with electrodes, record electrical signals from neurons. These implantables are crucial components of future brain-machine interfaces aimed at restoring neural functions and enhancing healthcare outcomes. Holst Centre's contributions in this field drive innovation towards transformative advancements in healthcare technology.”  


Building blocks for future electronics  

Corne Rentrop emphasizes that the combined expertise of imec and TNO at Holst Centre is pivotal for advancing future electronics. This collaboration spans software, firmware, electronic prototyping, materials, manufacturing technologies, and packaging, enabling the development of next-generation electronics that excel in performance, efficiency, and sustainability.   

Mario Konijnenberg highlights Holst Centre's role in creating industry-rated demonstrators that elevate OEMs' innovation portfolios. The prototype phase at Holst Centre represents an optimal Technology Readiness Level (TRL) for partners, striking a balance between proximity to core business interests and tangible technological advancements that prove desired functionalities. This approach fosters industry-leading innovation while maintaining strategic alignment with partners' goals.  


High expectations  

The future of electronics, including the economic opportunities for the Netherlands and Europe, looks bright expects Guido Dolmans: “The European semicon industry is strengthened by the Chips Joint Undertaking, while the Dutch government is investing heavily in the semiconductor infrastructure both on a national and a regional, Brainport level, to prepare the market for growth. At Holst Centre, we will contribute substantially to this ambition, by providing the semicon ecosystem with a comprehensive set of building blocks necessary to shape the electronics of the future.”