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£11m semiconductor centre could redefine UK’s net zero journey

28 February 2024

A new collaboration between academia and industry will support the country’s net zero economy through the development of energy-efficient power electronics.

Image: University of Bristol
Image: University of Bristol

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.

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.”

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 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.

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. 

Professor Peter Gammon, Head of Research and Deputy Head of School, School of Engineering, University of Warwick, said: “These chips 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 the 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 percent compared with continuing with existing technologies.

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