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£11m University of Bristol semiconductor research centre could be key player in net zero mission

The IKCs will deliver on the ambitions of the government’s National Semiconductor Strategy

Professor Martin Kuball, pictured front, third from right at the launch event for the IKC

Press release issued: 7 February 2024

The University of Bristol will be home to the new £11m Innovation and Knowledge Centre (IKC) REWIRE, set to deliver pioneering semiconductor technologies and new electronic devices.

Semiconductors, also known as microchips, are a key component in nearly every electrical device from mobile phones and medical equipment to electric vehicles.

They are increasingly being recognised as an area of global strategic significance due to the integral role they play in net zero, AI and quantum technology.

Co-created and delivered with industry, the University of Bristol-led REWIRE IKC is being delivered with partners at the Universities of Cambridge and Warwick.

The IKC will accelerate the UK’s ambition for net zero by transforming the next generation of high voltage electronic devices using wide/ultra-wide bandgap (WBG/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.

Compound semiconductor WBG/UWBG devices have been recognised in the UK National Semiconductor Strategy as key elements to support the net zero economy through the development of high voltage and low energy-loss power electronic technology.

They are essential building blocks for developing all-electric trains, ships and heavy goods electric vehicles, better charging infrastructure, renewable energy and High Voltage Direct Current grid connections, as well as intelligent power distribution and energy supplies to telecommunication networks and data centres,

The project is being led by Professor Martin Kuball and his team at the University of Bristol, with support from partners at the Universities of Cambridge and Warwick. Industry partners including Ampaire, BMW, Bosch, Cambridge GaN Devices (CGD), Element-Six Technologies, General Electric, Hitachi Energy, IQE, Oxford Instruments, Siemens, ST Microelectronics and Toshiba will also be supporting the project.

In collaboration with the University of Bristol Business School's team—co-led by Professor Palie Smart, Dr. Minhao Zhang, and Dr. Nikolaos Stylos, who possess expertise in global supply chain management, big data analytics, and marketing innovation—REWIRE will examine the global networks of semiconductor manufacturing and commercialisation and leverage cutting-edge analytical tools to explore geopolitical risks and vulnerabilities to advance the UK’s  overall supply chain resilience and inclusion. This work interfaces with that of the Bristol Digital Futures Institute (BDFI), who played a leading role in bringing experts from the Business School and Engineering together to help develop this bid.

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

Professor Peter Gammon, Head of Research and Deputy Head of School, School of Engineering, University of Warwick, said: “The REWIRE IKC will leverage the talent of UK research and industry to develop the next generation of power semiconductor technologies. These chips which are the critical unseen technology enabling electric vehicles, renewable technologies, data centres and the grid. The REWIRE IKC will play a prominent role within the UK’s semiconductor strategy, in cementing the UK’s place as a leader in compound semiconductor research and development, developing IP to be exploited here in the UK, rebuilding the UK semiconductor supply chain, and training the next generation of semiconductor materials scientists and engineers.”

Bristol is one of two new IKCs announced being funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Innovate UK, both part of UK Research and Innovation.

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

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.”

The University of Bristol team specialising in semiconductors has also recently been awarded £5m from the EPSRC to develop the next generation of Aluminium Gallium (AlGaN) Solid-State Circuit Breakers. It is anticipated these will greatly improve efficiency and voltage range, potentially enabling global energy savings of up to 20% compared to continuing with existing technologies.

Further information

Semiconductors are one of the UK Government’s 5 priority technologies.

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 and to help delivery new products to the market.

National semiconductor strategy - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

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