A partnership between industry and academia to create Europe's first Compound Semiconductor technology cluster will be launched in the UK Parliament today (18 November 2015).
The launch of the Compound Semiconductor Centre (CSC) aims to create a centre of excellence to develop and commercialise next generation CS technologies.
The vision for a cluster in Wales - with potential to create 5,000 jobs - is based on a joint venture between IQE plc, the leading global supplier of advanced semiconductor wafers, and Cardiff University.
Four major clusters based around silicon technologies already exist in Europe, but CSC - based in Cardiff - will be the first centre to develop expertise in CS know-how. CS components are used in many of today's high-tech applications including communications networks, smartphones and tablets.
With high performance capabilities, coupled with energy efficiency and photonic properties, CS is hailed as a key enabling technology for increased productivity and one of the key economic growth drivers identified in the European Commission's "Horizon 2020" economic growth strategy, aimed at the reindustrialisation of the EU.
The planned CS cluster has the potential to create up to 5,000 jobs across the Cardiff Capital region over the next five years, and would represent a central base of operations for the UK (and wider EU regions) efforts to reclaim high value technology manufacturing from competitors in East Asia.
The partnership will see Cardiff-based IQE plc, whose technology can be found in most mobile devices on the world market, working closely with Cardiff University's new £40 million Institute of Compound Semiconductors (ICS).
Dr Drew Nelson, Chief Executive of IQE, said: "Semiconductors are the unsung heroes of our modern world. Most people don't realise that when they're accessing the internet on their smartphone, the communications networks and mobile phone technology they are using just would not possible without compound semiconductors. What's more, it's even less likely they'll know that much of this technology is developed and manufactured in Wales.
"But technology evolves at a rapid pace. One of the big problems in the UK today in terms of advanced technologies is that a great deal of investment has gone into early stage research that so often goes on to be developed elsewhere. We frequently fail to take the steps needed to commercialise research and development activities through innovation and manufacturing.
"This is why we are looking to create the world's first compound semiconductor cluster, and having Cardiff University and the UK academic infrastructure in place creates a very strong basis to enable this cluster to be formed."
The CSC is jointly owned and jointly controlled by Cardiff University and IQE plc. To date, Cardiff University has contributed €16.9m ($18.5m / £12m) in capital investment to the venture, with IQE committing hardware, buildings, infrastructure as well as licensing certain intellectual property to the CSC.
The ICS forms part of Cardiff University's €423m ($462m / £300m) investment in new research and innovation centres, and its potential is already recognised by the Welsh and UK governments, who have invested over €40.9m ($44.7m / £29m) towards its creation.
Professor Diana Huffaker, Ser Cymru Chair in Advanced Engineering and Materials, recently joined from UCLA in the United States to become Director of Cardiff University's ICS.
Professor Huffaker said: "The Compound Semiconductor Centre is a unique facility unlike anything else in the UK or European Union. It brings together Cardiff University research in parallel with industrial scale production from IQE and future industrial partners. In effect, the partnership builds a bridge from basic research to commercial technology transfer. Not only will this joint venture help foster education at all levels but it will help create jobs within Cardiff and Wales.
"The teaming of IQE and Cardiff University is crucial to both sides: the venture allows IQE to try experimental ideas which they really think will be important, while Cardiff benefits from IQE's business direction. It's really a perfect union between the two. CSC/ICS will be open for business for any interested industrial and academic users."
At its core, the partnership seeks to overcome the endemic challenges that hinder the commercialisation academic research and development and technology innovations, commonly known as the 'Valley of Death'.
Collectively, the ICS, the joint venture, and IQE's existing world class CS operation in Cardiff establishes the core elements of a CS ecosystem in Wales to bridge early stage research, product development, prototyping, and pilot production, through to high volume manufacturing.
Dr Nelson added: "This cluster will take the great research that is being developed and seamlessly take it into high-volume manufacturing. Achieving that will secure a global platform for Wales and the UK."
Through the CSC, Cardiff University will now have a clear and effective route to commercialise world class R&D to be carried out at the ICS, and will be able to attract significant corporate and other R&D funding, while IQE will be able to take the technologies developed at ICS and the JV directly into large scale mass production.