The UK's semiconductor research efforts will receive a boost after the government joined the EU's Chips Joint Undertaking (JU).

Nick Wood

March 13, 2024

3 Min Read

The Chips JU has a total budget of around €11 billion, with €4.175 billion contributed from various EU pots and the rest forked over by participating states and the private sector. It has five operational objectives, covering the design and production of new chips; quantum chip development; training; and facilitating access to debt and equity financing.

With this remit in mind, the Chips JU periodically invites eligible companies to apply for funding. Its three most recent calls for proposals, issued in early February, promise to allocate a combined total of €216 million.

So where does the UK fit in? The specific area of the Chips JU that involves the UK relates to research and innovation (R&I) activities centred on semiconductor technologies. This particular bit of the JU is funded to the tune of €1.3 billion by the EU's Horizon Europe scientific research scheme, which the UK rejoined last September.

To get its foot in the door, the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) announced that the UK has agreed to contribute £5 million this year, plus another £30 million between 2025 and 2027.

In return, UK companies are now eligible to bid for funding. This year, the JU will issue two calls for funding bids relating to semiconductors for cars and other vehicles, as well as chips based on open source RISC-V architecture. Both of these areas, according to DSIT, are right up the UK's alley, so to speak.

"We are very happy to welcome the UK to the Chips Joint Undertaking as a participating state," said Jari Kinaret, Chips JU executive director. "We are looking forward to working with the UK partners to develop the European industrial ecosystem in microelectronics and its applications, contributing to the continent's scientific excellence and innovation leadership in semiconductor technologies and related fields."

As a fully paid up participating state, the UK will also have a role in setting research priorities and funding decisions in the years ahead.

"Our membership of the Chips Joint Undertaking will boost Britain's strengths in semiconductor science and research to secure our position in the global chip supply chain. This underscores our unwavering commitment to pushing the boundaries of technology and cements our important role in shaping the future of semiconductor technologies around the world," said technology minister Saqib Bhatti.

It certainly won't hinder the UK's semiconductor efforts, which are focused firmly on the research and development side of the coin, rather than the astronomically expensive – but ultimately more lucrative – production and supply side of the coin.

Under its National Semiconductor Strategy, the government will spend £1 billion over the next decade to grow the UK's semiconductor sector, mitigate any risks to supply chain disruption, and protect national security.

In line with that strategy, DSIT announced last month that around £27 million from that pot will fund two new semiconductor R&D centres, plus a bunch of training schemes.

While that might not be as eye-catching as South Korea's $471 billion plan for a semiconductor mega cluster or the $38 billion allocated for semiconductor production under the US CHIPS and Science Act, it nonetheless plays to the UK's strengths as an R&D hub.

"UK semiconductor startups have a rich history of collaboration with the European Union. Our semiconductor research base is the fourth largest in the world," said Sean Redmond, managing partner at semiconductor-focused startup incubator SiliconCatalyst. "Commercialising these inventions with the help of the EU Chips Joint Undertaking will significantly increase their probability of success, mitigating risks by local collaborations that provide a clear path from lab to fab."

To get the ball rolling, Kinaret will host a briefing for interested parties on 19 March. Participation will also be promoted by Innovate UK.

About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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