Welsh Semiconductor Cluster and Henry Royce Institute Call for a UK initiative to Address the Net-Zero Future of Electronic Systems

Date: 02.10.2020

Topics: Clusters

The Henry Royce Institute for advanced materials (Royce) has published a new roadmap on the future of materials for low loss electronics. This sets out recommendations to support the demands of future ultra-efficient electronic systems and is supported by CSconnected, the leading UK semiconductor industry cluster. CSConnected and Royce are working together to call for a UK-wide initiative to truly harness the established country’s world-class semiconductor materials research base and exploit this to develop new materials solutions that deliver far more efficient electronic devices and components, and to address the UK Government’s target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The low-loss electronics roadmap sets out the priorities, targets and enablers that have been identified by the UK materials community to help to achieve more efficient electronics in the context of power electronics and computing. Its recommendations reflect the growth in the electrification of vehicles, the increased use of renewable energy sources, and the development of ‘smart grids’. They also reflect the ever-growing global demand for digital technologies that is rapidly accelerating due to the evolution of established trends such as smartphone usage, the rise of social media and digital entertainment on demand.

This increasing global demand for digital technologies is now overlaid with new opportunities including mass-market adoption of the Internet of Things, practical applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI), emergence of autonomous vehicle technology, Industry4.0, and more recently, a step change in the connectivity demands of home working and online retailing.

Such a ubiquitous upward trend in digital technologies comes inevitably with an energy consumption penalty, and the numbers are sobering. There will be 29.3 billion networked devices by 2023, up from 18.4 billion in 2018, with internet access penetration reaching 66% of global population. Consequently internet (IP) traffic volumes will continue to see a massive rise, from 100 Exabytes per month in 2017 to a forecasted >330 Exabytes per month in 2022. This translates to a ‘digital electricity consumption’ growth of 7% per year, which is outstripping global electricity demand at 3% per year. Estimates suggest that the production and operation of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) systems will demand more than 21% of global electricity consumption by 2030.

Overall, an estimated 40% of natural resources are converted to electrical energy. This is expected to grow to 60% by 2040. Given the UK’s ambitious target to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to Net Zero by 2050, the development and adoption of more energy-efficient electronic systems are essential for the UK to achieve this goal.

Wyn Meredith, Director of the Cardiff-based Compound Semiconductor Centre, a joint venture between IQE Plc and Cardiff University focussed on commercialisation of Compound Semiconductor Innovation, commented:

“Reducing the energy consumption of future electronic systems cannot be achieved by optimisation of existing ICT hardware solutions alone. The UK needs to harness its extensive, world-class semiconductor materials research base to focus on developing solutions which take a holistic approach from novel materials to electronic devices and components.”

Royce CEO, Professor David Knowles said:
“We need ambitious new impact-driven initiatives to enable the UK materials science research community to accelerate dramatically the commercialisation of their research and innovation against our national imperatives. This focus on future electronic systems will provide a sovereign manufacturing capability for the UK, underpinned by world-leading research. Applied collaborative research programmes designed to accelerate industry adoption are needed, together with UK-based pilot-foundry semiconductor facilities”

Professor Edmund Linfield, Director of the Bragg Centre for Materials Research at Royce Partner, the University of Leeds added:
“Establishing policies that set power consumption targets, and support the circular economy through end of life considerations will also be a critical factor in establishing an environment where the UK takes a leading position in the development of low-loss electronics.”