South Wales to lead in superfast computer chips

11 September 2017

South Wales will be home to the world's first major compound semiconductor manufacturing hub in the world after local councils sign a £38m deal.  

Ten local councils, under the umbrella of the Regional Cabinet, have signed a £38m deal with the Welsh Government to create a compound semiconductor manufacturing hub in South Wales.

The technology has superseded the silicone chip, famous for its role in the California technical boom, and is set to revolutionise advancements in next generation robotics, 5G smartphones and the Internet of Things.

As a result of the deal,  the hope is to attract £375m in private investment, create 2000 jobs and become a global leader in compound semiconductor applications. The Regional Cabinet will lease a Newport foundry to semiconductor giants IQE to manufacture the semiconductors and develop applications.

Councillor Peter Fox, leader of Monmouthshire County Council and deputy chair of the CCR City Deal Regional Cabinet says the establishment of the world’s first dedicated centre is an achievement that should not be underestimated.

“It has the potential to place our region at the heart of this cutting edge sector and will require the development and integration of a compound semiconductor supply chain in South Wales, with the economic and social benefits that will bring.”

The project represents the first investment under the £1.2b Cardiff Capital Region (CCR) City Deal programme. This is a stimulus package that could transform the economy of South Wales. 

The investment brings the world’s first dedicated compound semiconductor cluster to South Wales. Four clusters already exist across Europe but none use these types of compound materials.

The Welsh government invested £12m into the project in 2015.  Ken Skates, economy secretary, said: “It is hugely encouraging that Welsh government’s initial £12m investment in developing the cluster back in 2015 has been the catalyst for today’s announcement that IQE plans to expand into the City Deal’s new facilities.”

The UK government added £50m in 2016 through its innovation agency – Innovate UK – to establish a new Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult in South East Wales. The Catapult aims to provide research facilities to accelerate the commercialisation of compound semiconductors, concentrating on healthcare, the digital economy, energy, transport, defence and security and space.  

Compound semiconductors are a mixture of two or more solid elements that partly conduct current under certain conditions. They work as a buffer in integrated circuits to control electrical current. Silicone is the most common type and, right now, is more cost effective than the compound upstart. But its properties justify the price hike.  

Their electrons move 100 times faster than silicone, allowing for high-speed processing and they operate at a lower voltage, can emit and sense light, are magnetically sensitive and and resistant to heat.

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