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UK research investment will boost UK semiconductor industry

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Saqib Bhatti (left), minister for tech and the digital economy, with Professor Graham Reed at the University of Southampton
8 February 2024
Saqib Bhatti (left), minister for tech and the digital economy, with Professor Graham Reed at the University of Southampton

Two new research hubs in Southampton and Bristol have received a cash injection of £11 million each to boost research in silicon photonics and compound semiconductors. 

Semiconductors are a key component in nearly every electrical device in the world from mobile phones to medical equipment. They underpin future technologies in net zero, AI and quantum and are increasingly recognised as an area of global strategic significance. 

Visiting the Southampton centre, Minister for Tech and the Digital Economy Saqib Bhatti said:  "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 AI, rooting them right here in the UK.

"Just nine months into delivering on the National Semiconductor Strategy, we’re already making rapid progress towards our goals. This isn’t just about fostering growth and creating high-skilled jobs, it’s about positioning the UK as a hub of global innovation, setting the stage for breakthroughs that have worldwide impact."

Each £11 million site will help convert scientific findings into business realities. They will support promising research and projects, offering researchers access to state-of-the-art prototyping technology essential for testing their complex designs, and nurturing early-stage companies. This includes empowering spin-outs with training, workshops, and vital industry contacts, ensuring they are fully equipped for when their products are market-ready. 

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

The “Cornerstone” Information and Knowledge Centre in Southampton will build on the university’s specialism in silicon photonics. This is an emerging area of research in semiconductors, where light is used to communicate information instead of electricity – meaning the chips that are made using this technology are much, much quicker than standard semiconductors. 

World-leading silicon photonics researcher Professor Graham Reed, who will lead the Cornerstone facility, said:  "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."

A further funding of £4.8 million in 11 semiconductor skills projects nationwide aims to elevate talent across all educational tiers, from school through to university and beyond. This 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 centres will help to deliver on the ambitions of the government’s £1 billion National Semiconductor Strategy, a 20-year plan detailing how the government will drive forward the UK’s strengths and skills in design, R&Dand compound semiconductors. 

This investment is a clear example of the government’s commitment to working in partnership with industry to support the semiconductor sector and achieve the goals of the National Semiconductor Strategy, building on our strengths to grow the UK’s sector 

The University of Southampton’s “Cornerstone” facility is already doing world-leading work to drive silicon photonics research forward. Silicon photonics attempts to take create silicon integrated circuits that use light instead of electricity – meaning chips can be much, much quicker.  

Silicon photonics can deliver high-speed, energy-efficient, and integrated solutions by manipulating light as opposed to electricity. This has real world applications in areas like high-speed internet, data centres, and telecommunications. 

Bristol’s REWIRE facility will boost a well-established cluster of chip companies across the South West and Wales. Co-created and delivered with industry, REWIRE will accelerate the UK’s ambition for net zero by transforming the next generation of high voltage electronic devices using wide/ultra-wide bandgap compound semiconductors.    

Compound semiconductors are another example of the UK’s leadership, with South Wales being home to the world’s first semiconductor cluster. They 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. 

Professor Charlotte Deane, Executive Chair of EPSRC, said:  "EPSRC and Innovate UK are supporting the UK’s ambition to build a thriving semiconductor industry by investing in research and innovation that will deliver new technologies to the market.

"This investment supports UKRI’s 5-year strategy to harness the full power of the UK’s research and innovation system to tackle large-scale, complex challenges.

"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, AI, and electrification."

Bristol IKC lead Professor Martin Kuball said: "Power devices are at the centre of all power electronic systems and 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."

Nicky Godding is editor of The Business Magazine. Before her journalism career, she worked mainly in public relations moving into writing when she was invited to launch Retail Watch, a publication covering retail and real estate across Europe.

After some years of constant travelling, she tucked away her passport and concentrated on business writing, co-founding a successful regional business magazine. She has interviewed some of the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs who have built multi-million-pound businesses and reported on many science and technology firsts.

She reports on the region’s thriving business economy from start-ups, family businesses and multi-million-pound corporations, to the professionals that support their growth and the institutions that educate the next generation of business leaders.

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