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UK Government unveils £26.8m semiconductor research investment

Written by Wed 14 Feb 2024

The UK Government has announced two new semiconductor hubs will receive £11 million ($13.8 million) each for research in silicon photonics and compound semiconductors. 

The Government said the Bristol and Southampton Innovation and Knowledge Centres (IKC) will help convert scientific findings into business realities. These sites will provide support for research and projects, granting researchers access to advanced prototyping technology to test their complex designs.

The sites will also empower spin-outs with training, workshops, and vital industry contacts. The aim is that they are fully equipped for when their products are market-ready

Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, Saqib Bhatti, said the announcement will position the UK as a hub for global innovation, setting the stage for breakthroughs with a global impact.

“This investment marks a crucial step in advancing our ambitions for the semiconductor industry, with these centres helping bring new technologies to market in areas like net zero and artificial intelligence, rooting them right here in the UK,” said Bhatti.

The Bristol and Southampton Research Hubs

The REWIRE facility at the University of Bristol will support chip companies across the South West and Wales. It aims to help accelerate the UK’s net zero ambition by advancing high-voltage electronic devices with cutting-edge compound semiconductors.

Lead Professor at Bristol IKC, Martin Kuball, said power devices pave the way for more efficient and compact power electronic systems, reducing energy loss.

“The REWIRE IKC will focus on power conversion of wind energy, high-temperature applications, device and packaging, and improving the efficiency of semiconductor device manufacture,” said Kuball.

Compound semiconductors outperform traditional silicon semiconductors in areas like power electronics for electric vehicles, photonics for optical fibre communications, and radio frequency management for 5G and RADAR. 

The ‘Cornerstone’ Information and Knowledge Centre in Southampton will leverage the University’s expertise in silicon photonics, which is an emerging field in semiconductor research. 

“The Cornerstone IKC will unite leading UK entrepreneurs and researchers, together with a network of support to improve the commercialisation of semiconductors and deliver a step-change in the silicon photonics industry,” said Professor Graham Reed, who will lead the Cornerstone facility.

Silicon photonics can deliver high-speed, energy-efficient, and integrated solutions by manipulating light as opposed to electricity. This results in significantly faster chips compared to standard semiconductors.

The technology can be applied in areas like high-speed internet, data centres, and telecommunications. 

Long-term funding has paved the way for the development of new technologies such as semiconductors, and the IKCs announced today will leverage future applications in areas such as telecoms, quantum, artificial intelligence (AI), and electrification,” said Professor Charlotte Deane, Executive Chair of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

UK Government Unveils Semiconductor Skills Project

The Government also announced further funding of £4.8 million ($6 million) in 11 semiconductor skills projects nationwide. This investment aims to elevate talent across all educational tiers, from school through to university and beyond. 

The Government said the funding will not only raise awareness of the semiconductor industry but also help to address key gaps in the UK’s workforce talent and training framework. 

The announcements will help to deliver on the ambitions of the Government’s £1 billion ($1.2 billion) National Semiconductor Strategy. This sStrategy is a 20-year plan detailing how the Government will drive forward the UK’s strengths and skills in design, R&D, and compound semiconductors. 

“It is clear that semiconductor technology is vital to shaping the future of the UK economy. Innovate UK’s investment today in centres and skills underlines this importance,” said Professor Will Drury, Executive Director of Digital and Technologies at Innovate UK.

In October, The UK Government announced the first 12 members of its £1.3 million ($1.5 million) ChipStart programme, as part of the National Semiconductor Strategy.

Mignon and Vaire Computing have joined the pilot. Both companies design hardware that is built to run large-scale AI models using more efficient chips. This enables AI models to use less energy and computer resources, leading to more efficient training and research.

Additional ChipStart members are focused on designing chips for brain implants and enhancing online user security using transformative quantum computing.

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Written by Wed 14 Feb 2024

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