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US to help Japan make leading-edge 2nm chips, possibly by 2025

Player Four has entered the game

Japan is reportedly hoping to join the ranks of countries producing leading-edge 2nm chips as soon as 2025, and it's working with the US to make such ambitions a reality.

Nikkei reported Wednesday that businesses from both countries will jointly research the design and manufacturing of such components for devices ranging from smartphones to servers as part of a "bilateral chip technology partnership" between America and Japan.

The report arrives less than a month after US and Japanese leaders said they would collaborate on next-generation semiconductors as part of broader agreement that also calls for "protecting and promoting critical technologies, including through the use of export controls."

While Nikkei didn't say which companies will be involved, the newspaper said a facility could start this summer and that a research and manufacturing center could open between 2025 and 2027. This fab could be established through the creation of a joint venture between Japanese and US businesses or a new manufacturing hub by local companies, according to Nikkei.

However it happens, the project will receive subsidies to help cover research and development costs as well as capital expenditures from Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the report said.

The plan reflects an increasing desire by countries with high-tech industries to have greater control over their supply chains for chips and other components as the world continues to deal with shortages. Having direct access to leading-edge chips can also serve as a competitive advantage.

The kind of chips Japan is looking to produce will use a 2nm manufacturing process, which is a few generations ahead of 5nm, the most advanced node that is currently being used in products like Apple's M1 chips for Macs and Samsung's Exynos processors for smartphones. Shrinking down a chip's transistors can result in faster, more efficient chips, once manufacturing challenges are overcome.

While Japan isn't home to South Korea's Samsung, Taiwan's TSMC, and Intel in the US — the semiconductor giants that plan to introduce 2nm or equivalent nodes in the 2024-2025 timeline — the country is home to chip materials suppliers such as Shin-Etsu Chemical and Sumco.

TSMC is already building a fab in Japan, but the plant will only make chips with older nodes that range from 10nm to 20nm, according to Nikkei.

With a new US technology partnership, Japan could feasibly have access to Intel and IBM, which is also developing its own 2nm technology, as well as chip materials supplier Applied Materials. The US is also home to fab equipment maker Lam Research.

Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology is already leading collaborative research on advanced chip technologies, including 2nm, with participation from Intel, TSMC, and IBM. Japanese fab equipment makers Tokyo Electron and Canon are also participating.

The new US-Japan partnership is yet another example of how some countries and regions are turning to collaboration with other nations to build a stronger semiconductor base. After all, the US and Europe are trying to build closer ties with the chip-making haven that is Taiwan, and Russia is increasingly looking to source chips from China after losing access to foreign processor makers Intel and AMD. ®

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