Semiconductors are a class of materials which are used to create the hardware which underpin electronic devices. The digital economy would be unable to function without them. They are as essential to modern life as grain or oil.
Technically, they are the basis upon which integrated circuits, or computer chips, are built. They are also vital for analogue circuits such as those involved in power management, radio frequency, lasers and sensors.
Semiconductors play an important part in our lives and are essential components in the electronic devices we all use and rely on each day. Semiconductors are increasingly recognised as an area of global strategic significance.
They are a key enabling technology across multiple commercial sectors (automotive, power electronics, quantum, communications) and are essential to driving progress towards meeting key technological, societal, and economic challenges such as:
- artificial intelligence
- digital healthcare
- net zero
Semiconductors of various type, size and complexity are used throughout the ICT ecosystem. This funding opportunity is focused on semiconductors for ICT, specifically at the semiconductor chip and device level. Research and innovation directly focused on semiconductor materials or using semiconductors for other applications are outside the scope of this funding opportunity.
EPSRC will award at least one award IKC in the semiconductors for ICT space. This is best described as semiconductors for intelligent connected devices, focusing on the device level for the processing and transmission of information, either by electronic, optoelectronic or photonics means. Research and innovation directly focused on semiconductor materials or using semiconductors for other applications are outside the scope of this funding opportunity.
IKCs should deliver world-class early-stage critical mass in an area of disruptive ICT-centric semiconductor technology research (but not limited to ICT researchers). Additionally, an IKC will:
- understand the potential future societal, sustainability and business needs around semiconductor technologies and using this to ensure that suitable routes to adoption are developed for these technologies
- focus on translation of “pre-technology” and “pre-device” low technology readiness level (TRL) semiconductor research from the academic domain into industry
- bring many parallel research solutions through the TRL levels, producing new processes, products, technologies and devices
- connect up and unite excellence in the landscape in this area, in terms of infrastructure, business and academic activities to enable collaboration, where appropriate. In order to develop sovereign capability and enable the UK to go beyond Moores Law
- push emergent research ideas through to commercially viable technologies, products, or processes
- co-create research ideas and collaborate with businesses, industry and end users to enable scale-up and drive novel low TRL technologies towards market
- match emerging technology capabilities to potential end-use markets to establish where the technology is most likely to realise near-term impacts
- enable impact of existing outcomes of research in terms of addressing industrial challenges, commercialisation as well as enabling broader societal and economic impact
- include expertise or understanding across the funding opportunity scope to enable the interface with the wider academic and industrial communities (including economists and social scientists if appropriate). However, any proposed research programme does not need to encompass the entire scope outlined
- focus on lower TRL discovery science and engineering ideas which can be translated through to higher TRLs through the creation of demonstrators and prototypes
- demonstrate how research ideas will be co-created with industry and end users
- align to certain business, industrial and government needs in the areas, as appropriate
The IKC model was created as a mechanism to address a market failure in a particular area and drive the transition of technologies that emerge from fundamental research towards proof-of-concept, commercialisation, and exploitation.
The model was cited in the UK Innovation Strategy as an initiative that can “convene industry and academics to co-design, develop and drive the adoption of transformative tech”.
This is achieved by creating a critical mass of innovators, led by an academic institution, which serves as the nucleating point for an emerging technology. IKCs accelerate and promote the exploitation of world class research and new technology by businesses in a strategically important area, building capacity and capability within the UK to deliver economic and societal benefits.
The convening power of an IKC offers the opportunity to raise market awareness and the subsequent adoption of new and emerging technologies through innovation via academic and industry collaboration.
In addition to benefitting businesses, the IKC model encourages the generation of new cutting edge research knowledge through the application of technologies to new and existing challenges. An IKC can draw on technical expertise but also on research into areas how businesses and markets innovate, adopt and diffuse these technologies.
IKCs are typically run from a single leading research organisation. Consortia can be composed of either a single research organisation, or multi-institution with an identified lead research organisation.
We encourage applications from local and regional clusters of research organisations with excellence and expertise in defined areas of academic research combined with strong links to industry.
Industry and business
All consortia must demonstrate meaningful engagement, collaboration and integration with industry and business. This is essential to maximise the short-term and long-term impacts of the IKC. Because of the scale of these awards, significant integration into the centre and leverage (cash or in-kind) will be expected from project partners.
We strongly encourage engagement from other partners (for example public sector and third sector bodies and policymakers).
You will also need to show how the core research organisations involved will support your application through research infrastructure access. It should link cohorts of doctoral training partnership (DTP) studentships to the work of the IKC, providing adequate space, buildings, etc.
The IKC should be appropriately integrated into the wider UK research and innovation landscape, with a strong network formed and engagement plans to support the wider needs of the industry. This includes development of the pipeline of ideas from research concept to commercialisation, and the supply of skilled people into the industry.
Plans to create sustainable activity beyond this period of funding should be included in the proposal, including both university and business partners, and plans to target additional external investment.
We expect funded IKCs to integrate plans of how to develop and retain intellectual property (IP) within the UK, and outline how any generated IP would impact on the UK research ecosystem and broader economy.
A typical IKC will comprise of (but is not limited to):
- a virtual or physical centre based around a single research organisation or multi-institution with an identified lead research organisation
- an academic centre director with a proven track record of managing large investments and excellence within their discipline
- a broader leadership team representing the span of the research remit proposed in the IKC. It is expected this will be composed of a diverse academics from different career stages with suitable track records and expertise
- a management and administrative team, that should include an IKC manager and industrial engagement manager, as well as other relevant non-academic staff, to ensure effective running of the centre and coordination with external partners
- non-academic staff including coordinators, business development officers, research technical professionals, project managers, industrial liaisons, commercialisation experts, technology transfer officers, technicians, etc.
- postdoctoral research assistants (PDRAs) working on projects within the IKC
- a core engineering team for the development of prototypes and demonstrators
- appropriate advisory and governance structures, including as a minimum, an independent advisory board which should meet at least annually and include key academic, industrial, relevant policy officials and other stakeholders. It is expected that a UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) representative will sit on this advisory board, who will be appointed by UKRI. Provision of the precise and full membership of such a board will not be required at point of application
We will accept applications from across the range of EPSRC research areas and the majority of the research must be within EPSRC remit. We welcome overlap with multiple EPSRC research areas but the focus should be on driving emergent ICT-led semiconductor technologies towards market. Relevant research areas within the ICT theme include:
Areas of focus
Potential areas of focus for the research programme within the IKC could include, but is not limited to:
- heterogeneous integration of semiconductor technologies: through novel integration of multiple separate semiconductor components into a higher level multi-chip modules to provide greatly enhanced functionality, improved operating characteristics, and marketable technologies
- hybrid integration of semiconductor technologies: novel combination and integration connecting multiple types of semiconductor chips or devices from different material technologies into single advanced packaging solutions
- photonic computing devices: development of devices, systems and architectures that harness photons for data processing, storage or communication
- integrated circuit design: development of novel circuit design tools, processes and automation. This could include managing design complexity, integration, verification and testing and novel designs combining analogue and digital components
- nano or microelectromechanical systems: integration of nano or microelectronic component devices and systems with mechanical systems to derive higher-level sensor functionality
- novel computing paradigms harnessing semiconductor technologies: this could include the development of novel hardware for neuromorphic or biologically-inspired computing, massively parallel computing structures, or devices combining electronics with other computational state variables beyond electronic charge (such as spin polarisation)
- enabling longer term scale-up of emergent semiconductor technologies and processes, including insight from manufacturing research communities
IKCs could include aspects of the following as appropriate:
- supply chain design and execution, especially across the multiple sectors using semiconductors, taking into account the geopolitics of semiconductor supply
- regulatory challenges and opportunities: what are the policy and regulatory implications of improved computer hardware security? Are there policy barriers to adoption or opportunities to accelerate adoption? To what extent does the regulatory environment affect the increased adoption of semiconductor technologies?
We encourage applications that align with cross-cutting areas in the semiconductor space, including but not exclusive to:
- integration of advanced and novel materials into ICT devices
- novel approaches to semiconductor manufacturing or fabrication
- embedded and on-chip security
- future communications systems
EPSRC is not looking to fund semiconductor technology IKCs where the majority of the remit focuses specifically on:
- quantum technologies
- artificial intelligence
- solar and other energy harvesting technologies
- fundamental physical and material properties of semiconductors
We encourage the development of a healthy, diverse, and inclusive talent and skills pipeline across the semiconductor technology spectrum. You will be required to consider UK skills needs within the sector as part of your proposal. This could include the provision of skills training, upskilling and reskilling of staff to meet specific technical needs, and the development of research technical professionals. The advancement and training of those engaged in the IKC should be considered from every career stage.
EPSRC is not providing studentship funding through this funding opportunity. Consortia should consider how best to leverage DTP allocations, and how to work with businesses to access I-CASE studentships to align with the IKC, where appropriate.
Each consortium should propose an initial research programme to tackle the initial research and innovation challenges. It is envisaged that the IKC will be able to flexibly reallocate funds to tackle new and impactful avenues of research, which are aligned to the overarching objectives of the centre.
Up to £2 million (80% FEC) of flexible funding can be incorporated into the proposal which can be used for:
- impact activities, including specific engagement with small and medium enterprises
- economic and commercialisation activities, including fast-fail, proof-of-concept projects, demonstrator-scale outputs as well as de-risking business involvement
- public engagement and collaboration outreach. This may include incorporating new industrial or business partners into the centre, including those within its regional vicinity
- the translation of research outputs and tools
Each consortium should submit a single outline application through the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system. This must be done by the lead applicant on behalf of the entire consortium, and should include funding requested for researchers at other institutions that are part of the application.
Your outline application should cover:
- research team: outline who will be involved and what their expertise is
- IKC research vision: summarise the scope of the IKC’s research and innovation programme
- impact and commercialisation: provide details on how you push low TRL ideas and technologies and ideas through to market
- industrial engagement: detail who the key industrial partners and businesses you will engage with are and how will you deliver research programmes through cocreation
- governance: outline how the IKC would be governed and how it will interact with the wider landscape of current investments
Funding is being provided by EPSRC and Innovate UK for this funding opportunity.
EPSRC will fund at least one IKC. The FEC of each investment can be up to £12.5 million. EPSRC will fund 80% FEC. The budget is indicative and subject to change.
Because of the nature of this investment, there will be additional requirements on reporting, monitoring and evaluation, and grant start date. This will be reflected in the grant additional conditions, and those funded will need to comply with them.
Resources may be used for research expenses including:
- UKRI-funded research facilities. Please note that if you plan to use a major facility in your research, such as those funded centrally by EPSRC or a European facility, contact the facility before applying to EPSRC. You should check if your proposed research is feasible, and obtain a technical assessment if the Je-S system marks it as required
- non-academic staff, including business development officers, project managers, industrial liaisons, coordinators, administrators, technology transfer officers, technicians, etc.
- research technical professionals and professional research and investment strategy managers as co-investigators
- up to £2 million of flexible funding
- proof of concept and prototype development funding
- research technical support including research software engineers, data scientists, PDRA and fellow salaries
- other standard expenses
Resources may also be used for activities that initiate, grow, and maintain collaborations with stakeholders (for example academia, business, government, third sector) such as:
- staff exchanges
- regular travel
Although this is not a funding opportunity designed for significant capital expenditure, equipment over £10,000 in value (including VAT) and up to £400,000 is available through this funding opportunity. All equipment should be fully justified and essential to the mission of the IKC.
Smaller items of equipment (individually under £10,000) should be in the ‘directly incurred – other costs’ heading. EPSRC approach to equipment funding.
All other eligible resources may be requested in accordance with standard EPSRC funding criteria.
Funding is available for 60 months. Funded projects must begin by 1 April 2024.
Responsible innovation and trusted research
EPSRC is fully committed to develop and promote responsible research and innovation that makes a positive contribution to society and the environment. Not just through research outputs and outcomes but through the way in which research and innovation is conducted and facilities are managed.
Research has the ability to not only produce understanding, knowledge and value, but also unintended consequences, questions, ethical dilemmas and, at times, unexpected social transformations.
We recognise that we have a duty of care to promote approaches to responsible innovation that will initiate ongoing reflection about the potential ethical and societal implications of the research that we sponsor and encourage our research community to do likewise.
You are expected to work within the EPSRC framework for responsible innovation.
- consider responsible research and innovation in the context of your project, not just your host institution as a whole
- take action to enhance your responsible research approach where practicable and reasonable
- consider bias, privacy, security and ethics should be considered where appropriate
The IKCs will be required to embed principles of responsible innovation and those of trusted research throughout their activities. IKCs will be expected to engage with the relevant regulatory bodies where concerns may arise under the National Security and Investment Act. We encourage you to talk to your research office and the Research Collaboration Advice Team to understand more.
If you plan to include international collaborators in your proposal you should visit Trusted Research for guidance on getting the most out of international collaboration while protecting intellectual property, sensitive research and personal information.
UKRI’s environmental sustainability strategy lays out our ambition to actively lead environmental sustainability across our sectors. This includes a vision to ensure that all major investment and funding decisions we make are directly informed by environmental sustainability, recognising environmental benefits as well as potential for environmental harm.
Environmental sustainability is a broad term but may include consideration of such broad areas as:
- reducing carbon emissions
- protecting and enhancing the natural environment and biodiversity
- waste or pollution elimination
- resource efficiency and a circular economy
EPSRC expects centres to embed careful consideration of environmental sustainability at all stages of the research and innovation process and throughout the lifetime of the IKC.
Centres should ensure that environmental impact and mitigation of the proposed research approaches and operations, as well as the associated project outputs, methodologies developed across science and engineering and outcomes is considered.
Centres must also seek opportunities to influence others and leave a legacy of environmental sustainability within the broader operations of your academic and industry partners.
Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI)
As leaders in the community, the IKC will be expected to champion and embed EDI in all their activities throughout the lifetime of the investment.
If funded, this will include identifying the specific EDI challenges and barriers in their own environment and developing a strategy to address these, with reference to EPSRC’s published expectations for EDI.
An IKC must ensure that they request appropriate resources to develop and deliver their EDI strategy effectively. This must include at least one costed staff post with responsibility for EDI (the centre EDI lead) and we encourage the principal investigator or co-investigator should lead this.
IKCs should include information on EDI resources (including the mandatory costed staff post for the EDI lead and any other resources, for example mentoring schemes, training, workshops, and data exercises) in the justification of resources document.
EPSRC does not specify any particular full-time equivalent, salary level or career stage for the EDI lead post. IKC applicants may decide what is most appropriate for their programme, while giving due consideration to flexible working.