US CHIPS Act set to electrify semiconductor scene with billions

National Strategy focuses on four goals for silicon heaven

The US government has dropped details on its National Strategy on Microelectronics Research, outlining top goals and actions for the next five years to boost the semiconductor industry with CHIPS Act investment.

Published by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the document [PDF] outlines four main goals for federal departments and agencies to focus on.

These cover research for future generations of microelectronics; bridging the gap from research to manufacturing; growing the technical workforce; and building an ecosystem to ease the adoption of research and development advances by US industry.

The move comes as Washington prepares to explain how billions in government funding will be spent expanding semiconductor fabrication capacity this week, with Intel, TSMC, and Samsung expected to be the big winners.

According to the White House, the National Strategy provides a framework for addressing key requirements, not just by federal departments and agencies, but also academia, industry, and international allies.

"This whole-of-government strategy encourages the microelectronics R&D community to bring their diverse expertise, entrepreneurial spirit, and drive to focus on a common purpose – to ensure that America remains a global leader in this important field," OSTP deputy director for National Security Steve Welby said in a statement.

"We now turn to the implementation of this strategy, leveraging the once-in-generation investments by government and the private sector to energize US semiconductor innovation for the future," he added.

The 61-page strategy document goes into detail on the four interconnected goals and what they should entail.

Research, for example, covers several areas that are said to be vital in creating future generations of microelectronics, such as developing new materials beyond emerging ones like silicon carbide (SiC), indium phosphide (InP), and aluminum nitride (AlN).

Also included in this are circuit design, simulation, and emulation tools; new architectures and advanced packaging and integration methods; plus manufacturing tools and processes to bring these into production.

Bridging from research to manufacturing acknowledges that microelectronics R&D is very infrastructure-intensive, and that resources for each stage need to be connected to ensure that innovations can progress along the technology development pathway.

CHIPS Act funding will therefore establish facilities that provide access to advanced prototyping, and improve access for academics and small businesses to design tools and wafer-scale fabrication resources.

The third goal, growing the workforce, should provide support for both educators and students across disciplines relevant to microelectronics. US education is the responsibility of state and local entities, but the strategy says that more should be done to provide teachers with the necessary resources and experience to educate students about career opportunities in microelectronics.

It also says that regional efforts in current and emerging semiconductor hubs should recognize that non-degree programs such as certificates are more appropriate for some skilled technical positions.

The lack of skilled workers in something Intel and others are very aware of, and is the reason given for the delay in TSMC building its fab in Arizona.

The fourth and final goal outlined in the strategy document pertains to getting federal agencies to work with companies in the microelectronics sector to deepen collaboration in research areas of mutual interest.

Identifying potential roadblocks to the adoption and scaling of new technologies should be a priority, as well as assisting early-stage businesses through targeted programs and investments.

The focus, however, isn't all entirely about the US. The strategy document notes that 80 percent of all global trade in semiconductors is outside the Americas, and that US companies depend on access to foreign markets to succeed.

With this in mind, Washington will develop trade policies to combat the unfair trade practices of other governments (because the US, of course, would never implement unfair trade practices) to "level the playing field" for technology exports.

It also mentions the International Technology Security and Innovation (ITSI) fund, set up in part to secure critical mineral inputs and strengthen international policy coordination on issues such as intellectual property protection.

The critical minerals reference could be in relation to China's decision last year to start restricting exports of key materials used for manufacturing semiconductors.

As The Register wrote when the CHIPS Act was signed into law in 2022, getting the funding to restore the US semiconductor industry to a leadership position is just the start. Now Washington has to actually implement policy to make it happen. ®

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