UK research investment to boost UK semiconductor industry

Close up of motherboard with focus on the main processor or micro chip with cyan backlit

Two new Innovation and Knowledge Centres will deliver new semiconductor technologies to market, boosting UK industry and enhancing our workforce capability.

A UK investment of £26.8 million will deliver innovative semiconductor technologies, new electrical devices and a skilled workforce. Semiconductors are one of the UK government’s five priority technologies.

Semiconductors, also called microchips, 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, artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum and are increasingly recognised as an area of global strategic significance.

Delivering the national semiconductor strategy

£22 million in funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Innovate UK, both part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), will support two new Innovation and Knowledge Centres (IKCs). The centres will be based at the universities of Bristol and Southampton.

The IKCs will deliver on the ambitions of the government’s national semiconductor strategy, a 20-year plan to:

  • boost the UK’s strengths and skills in design, research and innovation in semiconductors
  • help delivery new products to the market

Led by an expert entrepreneurial team

Each IKC will be led by an expert entrepreneurial team and will leverage research capability to commercialise semiconductor technologies and support wealth generation. They will focus on:

  • high voltage electronic devices found in power generation and distribution
  • silicon photonics technologies

In addition, Innovate UK has awarded funding of £4.8 million for 11 semiconductor skills projects across 32 organisations.

The skills projects are all industrially focused, addressing a wide range of technology areas aimed across the range of skills levels from school, through further education, higher education, university stages and beyond into the upskilling and reskilling of the workforce.

This will build awareness of the semiconductor industry and fill key gaps in the UK’s workforce talent and training capabilities.

Positioning UK as a hub of global innovation

Credit: University of Southampton

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.

Tackling large-scale, complex challenges

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.

Shaping the future of UK economy

Professor Will Drury, Executive Director Digital and Technologies of Innovate UK, said:

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.

As the national innovation agency, Innovate UK will make these strategic investments to allow innovative businesses to grow and thrive in the UK and deliver against some of the biggest global challenges.

Investment in Bristol and partners

The University of Bristol IKC will accelerate the UK’s ambition for net zero by transforming the next generation of high voltage electronic devices using wide or ultra-wide bandgap (WBG or UWBG) compound semiconductors.

The centre will advance the next generation of semiconductor power device technologies and enhance the security of the UK’s semiconductor supply-chain.

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, electric vehicle, smart grids, high temperature applications, device and packaging, and improving the efficiency of semiconductor device manufacture.

Investment at Southampton and partners

The new IKC at the University of Southampton will improve the development and commercialisation of silicon photonics technologies in the UK.

Silicon is the mostly commonly used material in semiconductors and is integral to photonics devices such as:

  • communications systems in data centres that underpin the internet
  • a range of emerging applications that offer the UK significant commercialisation opportunities

The IKC will bring together industry and research expertise to translate a wide range of silicon photonics technologies from research labs into industry, supporting the creation of new companies and jobs. The new centre will act as a shop front for UK expertise in semiconductors.

Southampton IKC lead Professor Graham Reed, 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.

Strengthen security and resilience

This funding opportunity helps address UKRI’s building a secure and resilient world strategic theme. This is one of five UKRI-wide initiatives aiming to harness the full power of the UK’s research and innovation system to tackle large-scale, complex challenges.

Working with others, we aim to strengthen security and resilience, from individual to national level, across a range of social and economic areas at the heart of daily life.

Further information

Transforming net zero with ultrawide bandgap semiconductor device technology (REWIRE)

Led by Professor Martin Kuball, University of Bristol and partners at universities of Cambridge and Warwick. Plus, companies such as:

  • Ampaire
  • BMW
  • Bosch
  • Cambridge GaN Devices (CGD)
  • Element-Six Technologies
  • General Electric
  • Hitachi Energy
  • IQE
  • Oxford Instruments
  • Siemens
  • ST Microelectronics
  • Toshiba

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 WBG or UWBG compound semiconductors.

The application-driven, collaborative research programme and training will advance the next generation of semiconductor power device technologies to commercialisation and enhance the security of the UK’s semiconductor supply-chain.

Work will initially focus on three use cases co-developed with industry:

  • wind energy, high-voltage direct current networks and smart grids: increased range high voltage devices as the basis for enabling more efficient power conversion and more compact power converters
  • high temperature applications, device and packaging: greatly expanded application ranges for power electronics
  • tools for design, yield and reliability: improving the efficiency of semiconductor device manufacture

CORNERSTONE Photonics Innovation Centre (C-PIC)

Led by Professor Graham Reed, University of Southampton, in partnership with:

  • University of Glasgow
  • Science and Technology Facilities Council
  • partners

Silicon is the most common material used in semiconductors, with hundreds of thousands of functional silicon wafers manufactured across the globe every month, making it central to the UK semiconductor strategy. Silicon can also be used to fabricate photonics devices, which enhances and extends the functionality of silicon electronics and comes with very well understood fabrication processes and low cost.

Silicon photonics has several critical advantages such as lower power consumption, higher data rates, and more. Also, it is already revolutionising commercial data centre communications.

The C-PIC will unite leading UK entrepreneurs and researchers to streamline the route to commercialisation, translating a wide range of technologies from research labs into industry, underpinned by the C-PIC silicon photonics prototyping foundry.

Applications will cover:

  • data centre communications
  • sensing for healthcare, the environment and defence
  • quantum technologies
  • AI
  • LiDAR

Semiconductor skills projects summaries

START-SEMI (skills, talent, and re-education training for semiconductors)

Led by Swansea University

Aim: develop a skills and talent pipeline.

Virtual reality semiconductor fabrication training facility

Led by Semiwise Limited

Aim: establish an innovative training facility.

Photonic integrated circuit packaging academy (PICPAC)

Led by Bay Photonics Ltd

Aim: create and deliver course content and materials.

Addressing shortages in semiconductor skills training (ASISST)

Led by The University Of Sheffield

Aim: raise the UK public’s awareness of the semiconductor industry and produce accessible, relevant semiconductor training courses.

Co-design of an advanced educational program to support the emerging and future eco-system of semiconductor manufacturing and design in the UK

Led by King’s College London

Aim: create a set of coherent learning pathways, by leveraging existing resources and producing new ones.

Spark their imagination; power their future

Led by Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult Limited

Aim: provide the opportunity for children at state-sector secondary schools in Wales to develop their interest in electronics and engineering.

An integrated training programme to realise the next generation of plasma-assisted manufacturing professionals, researchers and technicians for the UK

Led by University of York

Aim: establish a specialised training centre, with sector-specific infrastructure and bespoke, co-created and co-delivered training materials.

Quantum academy learning series (QuALS)

Led by Nascent Semiconductor Limited

Aim: provide training for people seeking to work in the development of practical quantum systems and technology.

Photonic integrated circuit bootcamp

Led by Anchored In Ltd

Aim: develop an intense training course to reskill professionals in photonics integrated circuit technologies.

Semiconductor Higher Technical Skills Academy Wales: recruitment, retention and upskilling

Led by Iungo Solutions Limited

Aim: host a suite of short, sharp, flexible and intense upskilling programmes to plug specific technical skills gaps.

Semiconductor electronic skills programme

Led by Tech Lancaster Limited

Aim: undertake an ambitious programme of outreach, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) engagement and skills training and development.

Top image:  Credit: sankai, E+ via Getty Images

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