Hands off, vendors – it's for research! $11B of US CHIPS funds earmarked for NIST fabs
Agency hopes program will keep US ahead of curve on semiconductor manufacturing
The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) revealed this week that, under the US CHIPS and Science Act, it will establish a network of public-private technical centers to accelerate the research and development of semiconductors.
Up until now, much of the focus around the $52 billion CHIPS and Science Act has revolved around the $39 billion in subsidies and tax credits available to companies building fabs in the US. However, establishing a domestic semiconductor industry is only part of a broader Act that will see $11 billion directed to R&D under the direction of NIST.
As we reported in September, the endeavor would involve the creation of two new research organizations: the National Semiconductor Technology Center (NSTC), which would focus on advancing chip tech, and the National Advanced Packaging Manufacturing Program (NAPMP), which, as its name would imply, will concentrate on packaging.
However, NIST's plans involve far more than these two organizations, and in many respects, follows a framework not unlike the one employed by the Department of Energy at its 17 national laboratories.
In a paper published [PDF] Tuesday, NIST detailed its plans to create a network of multiple geographically distributed technical centers under the NSTC, each of which would be capable of end-to-end fabrication to support small-scale prototyping and pilot runs of experimental technologies.
NIST envisions these facilities as exceeding the capabilities of universities, semiconductor startups, and even existing federal research centers. The ultimate goal of the NSTC, according to NIST, is multifaceted, but broadly speaking, it seeks to tap into existing public, private, and military expertise to strengthen the US chip manufacturing ecosystem, reduce the time and cost to implementing emerging technologies, and cultivate a vibrant semiconductor workforce.
"By the decade's end, the NSTC should be viewed throughout the world as an essential resource within the broader semiconductor ecosystem," NIST writes.
And while we still don't know how many technical centers will ultimately be established, we do know that, due to the extreme cost associated with semiconductor manufacturing, they won't necessarily be new buildings, and may involve collaborations with private parties, and/or purchasing existing facilities.
Although NIST says these technical centers will amount to a research fab, like the DoE's national laboratories, there is some room for specialization. For example, a technical center could focus on packaging or prototyping, while another may tie into an affiliated university or gain access to specialized equipment.
These facilities will be directly overseen by the NSTC, but how and what these facilities focus their efforts on will be determined with the support of an advisory body composed of industry experts. According to NIST, the NSTC will be supported by public and private partners, including chipmakers, research institutions and universities, state and local governments, federal agencies, foundry operators, equipment vendors, labor unions, and investors.
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Some of the technologies on the NSTC's shortlist include baseline CMOS, power electronics, radio frequency, photonics, bioelectronics, design tools, and chiplets to name a handful.
With that said, NIST says the NSTC will largely target technologies that are already in the proof-of-concept phase and that are perceived as having the potential to increase competition in the consumer semiconductor market. As we understand it, chip technologies with military implications will remain the purview of the Department of Defense Microelectronics Commons.
The issue of which projects are funded will fall on NIST's CHIPS R&D Office, a separate organization, which has been charged with the development, oversight, and funding of the NSTC, the NAPMP, as well as several other complimentary programs.
A path to self sufficiency
The CHIPS Act provides funding for the NSTC for about five years, however, beyond that, NIST is still working out all the details.
Per the paper, the group is exploring several potential revenue sources, including membership, program service, and IP licensing fees, royalties, and state and local government support.
Should the NSTC choose to license technologies developed at its various technical centers, NIST notes that rules and procedures will need to be developed first to protect the ownership of any underlying IP of its members. ®