In May of last year, it was reported that a facility to make compound semiconductors, the new technology behind robotics, 5G and driverless cars was to receive nearly £38m in funding. The facility based in Wales had already received £12 from the welsh government at the end of 2015 and the new funding was to refurbish and kit out the facility with all the technology required. Compound semiconductors are expected to revolutionise technology and enable a wide range of developments.
The 10 councils in the Cardiff Capital aimed to develop the foundry in Newport, which could create about 2,000 high skilled jobs in five years. These will be highly skilled and highly paid jobs, with the going rate expected to be around £65,000 a year. It will be owned by the councils and is projected to create £375m of private sector investment in the next five years.
At the time the First Minister for Wales, Carwyn Jones said it would boost Wales’ global reputation and Newport Council leader Debbie Wilcox said the investment was just the start
Making south east Wales a European centre of excellence for the technology behind modern electronics was central to the £1.2bn City Deal agreed between the local authorities and the Welsh and UK governments.
Welsh company IQE, which is based in St Mellons, Cardiff, and exports around the world, has already joined with Cardiff University and the Welsh Government to invest in developing a compound semiconductor cluster. Already there are a number of companies making and using more traditional semiconductors – made of silicon – across south east Wales.
The BBC’s Wales economics correspondent Sarah Dickins, explained,
The dream of those behind this project is that compound semiconductors will do for south east Wales what silicon semiconductors did for Palo Alto in California.
The development of silicon semiconductors revolutionised technology and became a lucrative industry. Silicon Valley became known around the world and attracted high levels of investment and became “the place ” to set up tech companies.
Compound semiconductors are in effect the next generation. Using them, technologies can develop that can for instance make solar energy more efficient, enable 5G, improve robotics, or driverless cars.
They would also make possible developments often referred to as “The Internet of Things”, where our devices can talk to each other. For instance, where vehicles or buildings can communicate with each other and exchange data.
The technological opportunities are wide-ranging and the dream is that by being at the forefront of development of compound semiconductors the whole of the Welsh economy would move up a gear. One of the aims of the Cardiff City Deal was to increase productivity in south east Wales and the development of this cluster has been very much a part of that aim.
What also stands out is that the local authorities that made up the Cardiff Capital Region would own the foundry that would make the compound semiconductors and it would be leased to the private sector. The investment is not a grant or a loan but a commercial investment and the business plan is for the original investment plus interest to be returned to the councils over the lifetime of the project.
Recently, in June, the office of the Secretary of State for Wales, Alun Cairns MP released a press statement: – it read,
Wales’ compound semiconductor tech prowess must go global”
UK Government gathers leaders from Wales’ ‘Silicon Valley’ to discuss sector’s international potential
The time has come to promote Wales’ pioneering prowess in compound semiconductor technology on a global scale. That will be the message from the UK Government today as the Office of the Secretary of State for Wales gather leaders from Wales’ own ‘Silicon Valley’ for progress talks in Newport (18 June).
Wales already has a wealth of advanced semiconductor expertise in the form of IQE, SPTS Technologies, Newport Wafer Fab and Microsemi, who, along with academic partners and the UK Government’s £50million compound semiconductor applications Catapult, form the world’s first Compound Semiconductor cluster, CS-Connected.
The UK Government will host the meeting at Newport Wafer Fab – the UK’s largest semiconductor centre and the chip Foundry of the CS.
The meeting will be attended by HM Trade Commissioner for China, Richard Burn who is visiting Wales to see first-hand the nation’s growing expertise in the sector following his meeting with Secretary of State at the GREAT Festival of Innovation in Hong Kong. As the UK prepares for future trade agreements with countries around the world, the Department of International Trade has appointed Trade Commissioners for nine geographical areas around the world to champion British trade with some of the UK’s biggest economic partners.
Alun Cairns MP said, “If we want Wales to be at the vanguard of the high-tech revolution, we need to up our stakes – and our vision must be global. That is why I’m delighted that the HM Trade Commissioner for China will attend today’s meeting in Newport.
During our meeting at the GREAT Festival of Innovation in Hong Kong earlier this year, I had the opportunity to showcase how Wales’ reputation for innovation excellence can put the UK on a firm trading footing for a post Brexit future.
But the challenge now is to seize those opportunities and to capitalise on the skills right here in south Wales that sets us apart. The UK Government wants to hear strong ideas today on how we develop this cluster and how we market the expertise we have in abundance on a global stage.”
He added, “To realise our global ambitions for the compound semiconductor sector, Government and businesses need to work hand in hand. That is what our Modern Industrial Strategy is all about.
The UK Government will continue to lay the foundations and develop the international relationships – opening doors and taking down barriers.
But it is ultimately our enterprising businesspeople like those around the table today who will make the most of those new opportunities.”