The government has said it is funding two semiconductor “information and knowledge centres” in a bid to deliver chip innovation to market.
Building out the Department for Science Innovation and Technology’s (DSIT’s) UK National Semiconductor strategy, the Innovation and Knowledge Centres in Southampton and Bristol are each receiving £11m of funding. The government has also announced £4.8m funding for semiconductor skills projects.
The announcement of the funding coincides with DSIT’s one-year anniversary. The government said the cash injection would boost research in silicon photonics and compound semiconductors.
Charlotte Deane, executive chair of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, said: “This investment supports UKRI’s [UK Research and Innovation’s] five-year strategy to harness the full power of the UK’s research and innovation system to tackle large-scale, complex challenges.”
The “Cornerstone” Information and Knowledge Centre (IKC) in Southampton is built around the university’s specialism in silicon photonics, where light is used to communicate information instead of electricity. Silicon photonics could lead to chips that are much quicker than standard semiconductors.
Professor Graham Reed, who will lead the IKC in Southampton, 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.”
Bristol’s Rewire IKC aims to boost the cluster of chip companies that exist across the South West and Wales, and the facility at Bristol aims to 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. This type of semiconductor is said to outperform traditional silicon semiconductors in areas such as power electronics for electric vehicles, photonics for optical fibre communications and radio frequency management for 5G and radar.
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.
When Computer Weekly spoke to Saqib Bhatti, parliamentary under-secretary of state for tech and the digital economy, in January, he discussed the huge growth potential for specialised semiconductors for the UK to capitalise on. “The global market is destined to be about £350bn in turnover by 2030, and here in the UK, we are going to have a massive chunk of that,” he said.
Discussing the IKC investments on a visit to the Southampton site, 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 [artificial intelligence], 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,” he added. “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 a worldwide impact.”