The government is to provide funding to help British scientists and engineers develop new semiconductor technologies in the years ahead.

The government announced that the research investment is to boost the UK semiconductor industry, will see two new ‘Innovation and Knowledge Centres’ (IKCs) receiving £11 million each in order to help bring new chip technologies to market.

It should be remembered that the UK government had in May 2023 had unveiled its long-awaited ‘National Semiconductor Strategy’, to bolster the semiconductor sector in the United Kingdom.

Research hubs

That £1 billion strategy for UK’s semiconductor sector was designed “to secure the world-leading strengths of the UK’s semiconductor industry” over the next 20 years.

But critics pointed out at the time that the UK government was spending significantly less than the massive chip investments of the United States ($52 billion) and the European Union (€45 billion).

Now the UK government has said that the two new IKCs will receive £11 million each to help bring new chip technologies to market, such as advancements in AI or underpinning the technologies needed to reach net zero.

The two new research hubs in Southampton and Bristol however have received a cash injection to boost research in silicon photonics and compound semiconductors.

“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,” said Minister for Tech and the Digital Economy Saqib Bhatti, whilst visiting the Southampton centre.

“Just nine months into delivering on the National Semiconductor Strategy, we’re already making rapid progress towards our goals,” Bhatti 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 worldwide impact.”

Business objectives

The government said that each £11 million site will help convert scientific findings into business realities. It said 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.

The government also said 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 seek to raise awareness of the semiconductor industry, but also attempt to address key gaps in the UK’s workforce talent and training framework.

Global competition

News of the government funded Innovation and Knowledge Centres to bolster UK expertise in specialist areas, was welcomed by Saj Huq, head of Innovation at innovation and workspace specialist Plexal.

“Whilst the UK has world-leading semiconductor expertise and a thriving innovation ecosystem, we cannot take our leadership position for granted, given the increasing levels of global competition in this space,” said Saj Huq.

“Following on from the launch of the National Semiconductor Strategy last year, this is a very welcome funding announcement from government which serves to double-down on several areas where the UK has a particular opportunity and advantage, whilst ensuring we have the depth of talent and skills to service the increasing levels of global industry demand for high-end chips that can enable a range of breakthrough technologies,” said Huq.

“I’m pleased to see a closing of the gap between academia and industry, presenting stronger conditions for collaboration and innovation, which positions us well for broader growth across the whole of the UK tech ecosystem,” Huq concluded.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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