Silicon semiconductors have revolutionized the world we live in by making digital technology available to almost everyone, and introducing efficiencies across virtually every industry in the world. But as the technology continues to evolve and new solutions in the marketplace require more powerful semiconductors, countries around the world want to be the hub of manufacturing for the new generation of chips that will be powering faster mobile devices, driverless cars, 5G services and more. The Welsh government is making a $49.1M investment to upgrade a facility that will be outfitted with the technology to manufacture compound semiconductors.
Sarah Dickins, a BBC Wales economics correspondent, has reported that the councils in the Cardiff Capital Region are in the process of upgrading the foundry in Newport to make the compound semiconductors. When it is all said and done, they expect to create about 2,000 high skilled jobs and $484.2M of private sector investment in five years. The funding will use $10.3M (News - Alert) to refurbish the facility and $38.7M to install the technology needed to start manufacturing the chips.
Once fully operational, officials in the council are hoping this area will become a hub for next generation technology development. That is because these chips will be needed to improve a range of information and communications technology as well as other industries. According to Dickins, this includes developments in the Internet of Things (IoT), 5G, better robotics technology, automated solutions such as driverless cars and more.
The technology for compound semiconductors was not available for high production volumes because the process was more costly, the number of defects in the crystal was higher and they were also more fragile compared to silicon. These factors didn't make it a viable solution in the highly competitive ICT industry. But like almost all technologies, development in manufacturing has lowered the cost of making compound semiconductors, even though it is still much higher than silicon. However, the fundamental material properties of these crystals are becoming essential for certain applications because they can do what silicon is not capable of doing.
So what is a compound semiconductor?
A compound semiconductor is composed of two or more elements, such as gallium arsenide (GaAs), gallium nitride (GaN), indium phosphide (InP), zinc selenide (ZnSe), and silicon carbide (SiC). The electrons in compound semiconductors move much faster than electrons in silicon, and they respond to light, generate microwaves and operate at a lower voltage. This makes them ideal for next generation digital technologies and improving existing optical and wireless communications.
Edited by Alicia Young