Since 2016, two of Wales’ leading technology firms, IQE and Cardiff University, have been working towards the creation of the world’s first compound semiconductor cluster – essentially, a Welsh version of Silicon Valley.

Having received backing from both the Welsh and UK governments, an alliance of businesses, academics and local authorities has now set up a base in South Wales – an area which has been producing silicon semiconductors for decades.

Why are semiconductors so important?

For those that aren’t already in the know, compound semiconductors are tiny, incredibly powerful components found in electrical devices. They’re similar to silicon chips, but perform much faster and are far more energy efficient. This makes them ideal for use in high-speed communication devices like smartphones which require strong 5G connections and an impressive battery life.

At home, you’ll find semiconductors inside your television, computer, appliances and smart devices. They’re the reason that we can control the temperature inside our fridges and reduce our energy usage by switching to LED bulbs. However, on a larger scale they enable the operation of the internet, transport, ATMs and advanced medical equipment.

In the near future, they’ll become an integral part of how anti-collision sensors and high-efficiency solar cells operate.

Where is there room for growth?

Globally, the semiconductor market is worth an estimated $480bn and is rapidly growing. More specifically, the compound semiconductor market currently sits around the $86bn mark – with the UK accountable for 10 per cent of sales. With the rise of driverless cars and the need for more advanced healthcare technology, there’s huge potential for growth in the market.

The new cluster will operate in three key areas:

  • The Institute for Compound Semiconductor Technology at Cardiff University’s Innovation Campus, worth £90m
  • The Compound Semiconductor Centre co-located at IQE’s Cardiff facilities at St Mellons, worth £42m
  • The Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult in Wales, worth a total of £150m.

How will the area benefit?

Research conducted by Cardiff University predicted that the cluster could indirectly create at up to 5,000 new jobs by 2025, with 300 of them being directly linked to the new bases in South Wales. Overall there will be a wide range of technical roles available, with a particular focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines. It’s expected that a majority of these will be at graduate and postgraduate level, with attractive salaries on offer in exchange for highly skilled employees.

It’s not unusual for the silicon industry to develop in clusters, but if the project sees rapid development over the next few months then Wales may become home to the world’s first compound semiconductor hub – a huge boost for the country’s technology credentials.