Technologies of tomorrow: France has not said its last word

Stefan Siebert does not hide his satisfaction. Over the past six months, the Director for Technological Research of the KAE (Commissariat for Atomic Energy and Alternative Energy Sources) has witnessed the implementation of several major projects. And lead to the construction of factories. Real ones that create hundreds of jobs. In Béziers (Hérault), Gendia, a joint venture between CEA and Schlumberger, has begun the installation of its high-temperature electrolytic cell for the production of pure hydrogen.

In Bernen (Isere), Soitec will build a new plant for the production of silicon carbide substrates. The resulting electronic chips will increase the range and charging time of electric vehicles. Finally, in Champagne (Isère), Aledia will launch its 3D micro LEDs for smartphone screens and automotive lighting. “We thought the screens had definitely gone to Asia,” recalls Stefan Siebert.

These industrial projects, based on CEA research, refute those who lament, sometimes quite rightly, that the work of our laboratories too rarely leads to business or has no concrete impact on society. But times are changing. All the experts we interviewed confirm this: a new wind is blowing in French diptechs, technologies that will shape the economy of tomorrow.

Researchers are more “business-friendly”: 43% of our doctoral students say they are tempted to start their own business. Recently reappointed as head of the CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research), Stéphane Petit no longer looks to him when he sets out to speed up technology transfer, exchanges with industrialists, or create a “startup studio” in this temple. academic research.

First of all, there are plenty of loans. France 2030 plans to allocate 34 billion euros to the sectors of the future, such as hydrogen, nuclear, biomedical or low-carbon aviation. Similarly, 1.8 billion euros have been programmed into a computing plan that aims to place the country among the pioneers of quantum computing.

Another strong signal: In 2021, 250 startups benefited from the deep technology fund set up by state-owned investment bank Bpifrance, whether in healthcare (40% of projects), environmental technology or new materials. “We are replicating what we have done at French Tech,” explains Paul-Francois Fournier, who is in charge of the fund. “Laboratories need significant capital and time. We are adapting the ecosystem to facilitate this technology transfer.” The state bank already estimates the number of direct jobs in high-tech start-ups at 24,000.

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Risks are higher, delivery times are longer, but the potential for value creation is sometimes huge. And the investment of public money has a multiplier effect: when Bpifrance puts 400 million on the table, private funds add three to four times as much. “In deeptech, we immediately talk about tens, even hundreds of millions of euros that need to be mobilized,” confirms Stefan Siebert. “French investors need to integrate these amounts and the level of risk.” The Amundi-linked CEA (Crédit Agricole) plays this role with Supernova Invest, an investment and innovation fund.

This is indeed a highly political matter: it is about restoring our scientific and economic sovereignty on a French and European scale. Europe, from this point of view, is in the process of abandoning its naivety in the face of a Chinese systemic rival and a not always unconditional American ally. In a major development at the beginning of the year, European Commissioner Thierry Breton, who is in charge of the domestic market, presented his Chip Law, a plan aimed at restarting the design and production of semiconductors in Europe.

Recent shortages, especially in the automotive industry, have demonstrated the central role of these electronic brains in running an entire sector of our economy. Europe hopes to double its production by 2030 to achieve a 20% global market share. “We cannot afford to depend on third countries in strategic areas,” the French leader insisted.

The first concrete illustration: US giant Intel announced a massive investment plan supported by Brussels for the production of semiconductors in Europe. Most of it goes to Germany with the installation of a megafactory in Magdeburg for … 17 billion euros of investment. France, located on the Saclay plateau in the Paris region, is set to become Intel’s European research and development hub, with 450 jobs promised by 2024. Other investments are planned in Ireland, Italy, Poland and Spain.

In terms of chips, the dossier mentions the promising future of SiPearl, a young company founded in Maisons-Laffitte (Yvelines) that has developed a high-end semiconductor designed for supercomputers. About 60 computer experts from all over the continent are working on this product. Founder Philip Notton plans to grow his workforce to 1,000 in 2025! Many rockets are ready to take off.