Cardiff to lead one of five hubs launched to create sustainable future for manufacturing

Cardiff University will receive a share of £99m in funding to lead a new compound semiconductor manufacturing hub.

The hub aims to capitalise on the huge opportunity of compound semiconductor manufacturing identified in the UK’s national semiconductor strategy.

The researchers will develop energy-efficient opto-electronics for use in key emerging technologies such as quantum, the 6G network, sensors for autonomous vehicles, the internet of things and satellite communications.

A key driver for the hub will be to expand the environmental benefits of compound semiconductors, by carrying out their research in an environmentally friendly way, developing new manufacturing processes and creating new devices that are energy efficient along the way.

Professor Peter Smowton, the Cardiff hub lead and Managing Director of Cardiff University’s Institute for Compound Semiconductors, said: “This award is an endorsement of our vision to establish the UK as the primary global research and manufacturing hub for compound semiconductor (CS) technologies, expanding and extending the CS Cluster here in South Wales that our previous EPSRC Manufacturing Hub initiated.”

Supported by new start-ups and inward investment into our region, the hub will be at the very heart of the cluster ensuring we can continue to develop CS technologies which enable our connected world, our health, our security and protect the environment. The time is right for a step-change in CS manufacturing and we can’t wait to get started here in Cardiff.

Professor Peter Smowton Managing Director Institute for Compound Semiconductors

The five manufacturing research hubs are supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) part of UK Research and Innovation with an investment of £55 million, with each hub receiving £11 million.

Partner contributions, cash and in-kind, takes the total support committed to the new hubs to £99.3 million.

The hubs aim to address a wide range of challenges in commercialising early-stage research within different manufacturing sectors by reducing waste, finding alternatives to expensive or environmentally damaging materials, and speeding up processes.

Working with industry partners, the researchers will also explore different pathways to manufacture, including production scale-up and integration within the wider industrial system.

Advances in environmental sustainability across manufacturing processes are also a focus of the hubs, which hope to bolster the economy though efficiencies such as reducing waste, emissions and pollution, and lowering production costs.

EPSRC Executive Chair Professor Charlotte Deane said: “Given the scale and importance of the UK’s manufacturing sector we must ensure that it is able to benefit fully from advances made across the research and innovation ecosystem.

“With their focus on innovation and sustainability the advances made by the hubs will benefit specific sectors, the wider manufacturing sector and economy, as well the environment.”

Cardiff University researchers will also support the Sustainable Chemicals and Materials Manufacturing (SCHEMA) hub led by the University of Oxford and the Advanced Metrology for Sustainable Manufacturing hub led by the University of Huddersfield.

A high pressure reactor in the labs at Cardiff University’s Translational Research Hub
A high pressure reactor being set up in the labs at Cardiff University’s Translational Research Hub ready to carry out a catalytic reaction of the kind that will be used in the SCHEMA hub’s research programme

Professor Graham Hutchings and Sir Richard Catlow from Cardiff University’s School of Chemistry will lend their expertise to the SCHEMA hub.

Its research focusses on transforming the way chemicals and polymers are designed, made and recycled and to support the transition away from the use of virgin petrochemicals and to increase recycling rates.

A key focus will be to design processes that can produce chemicals and polymers from renewable raw materials such as biomass, carbon dioxide and even industrial wastes, and integrating renewable energy into the process engineering.

Professor Hutchings said: “Achieving net zero in the chemical industry is a huge part of the puzzle of making manufacturing processes sustainable.

“This is because chemical processes underpin so many of the products and technologies operating in today’s market.

With expertise drawn from across the academic spectra together with commercial, tech and civic partners, SCHEMA is well-equipped to make significant strides toward sustainable chemical and polymer production.

Professor Graham Hutchings Regius Professor of Chemistry

The remaining hubs announced include:

  • the MediForge Hub led by the University of Strathclyde
  • the Manufacturing Research Hub in Resource-Enabled Sustainable Circular Automation Manufacturing (RESCu-M) led by the University of Birmingham