£16.6m for semiconductors used in EVs and green energy

Government announces new investment providing access for researchers and businesses to new equipment they need to test and make chips for high-energy use such as in electric vehicles and manufacturing. 

Semiconductors are, of course, essential components in pretty much every electronic device we use, from phones and computers to power stations. More than 1tn (1,000,000,000,000) semiconductors are now manufactured each year. Most are relatively simple silicon chips’ but some 20% now comprise two or more elements, which gives them unique, specific properties.

an abstract image of a bench in a park

Photo by Jason Leung

When the UK government announced its long awaited £1bn semiconductor strategy last May, there was criticism that the initial £250m was very little compared to investment in the sector elsewhere. For example, the US government had already announced investment worth $52bn (£46bn) and the EU’s European Chips Act agreed €43bn (£38bn). The same month that the UK government announced the £1bn strategy, a single private-sector company, Analog Devices, Inc (ADI), announced new investment worth €630m (£548m) in its European HQ in Ireland.

Instead of matching levels of funding, the UK strategy recommended that finding new ways to ‘package’ and test chips is the key to improved performance. Packaging is where complex casing is added to silicon wafers enabling them to interact with the devices for which they’re designed to process information. 

The bulk of the new funding – some £14m – is to be targeted at semiconductors used in so-called ‘power electronics’. This is where the chips convert and control power in energy-intensive machines, including electric vehicles (EVs) and manufacturing equipment. 

New open-access tools, based chiefly in Newcastle and Strathclyde, will help researchers and businesses of all sizes test innovations in power electronics and improve packaging processes. It’s hoped that the latter will help to reduce the power needed to run semiconductors through improved performance in demanding applications such as data centres and gaming. It will also ensure chips can cool down more effectively in hot environments such as manufacturing. 

But the new tools will cover a range of processes involved in the design and testing of these semiconductors. That including ‘slicing’ silicon wafers into smaller chips and bonding complex materials together to make chips with bespoke, particular properties. 

Funding will also help manufacturers improve the tech used to automate assembly processes and to help build and test ‘drives’, which are key to the conversion of energy into motion in EVs, manufacturing equipment and other intensive applications. 

Technology Minister Saqib Bhatti says: ‘New innovations in the way we package up semiconductors have the potential to transform whole industries and vastly improve consumer devices, all while driving long-term economic growth. This investment in open-access technology will make sure British researchers have the tools they need to rapidly turn semiconductor science into business reality, all while making hugely energy intensive sectors more sustainable.’ 

Mike Biddle, Executive Director of Net Zero at Innovate UK, adds: ‘Innovate UK’s investment into supply chains for Power Electronics, Machines and Drives shows the importance of these technologies to the UK economy and the global race to net zero. It is exciting to see the breadth of activity in semiconductor packaging as well as electric machine validation and manufacturing. The majority of this investment is strategically aligned with the National Semiconductor Strategy and helps grow the high-value post-wafer capabilities within the UK.’ 

In related news:

Improvements to 999 infrastructure follow biggest tech outage in a century

New report tackles barriers to technology-enabled care (TEC)

£22m for semiconductor centres in Bristol and Southampton 


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