British companies are investing millions of pounds into developing new semiconductors, with no sign that their usage will be slowing down any time soon.

Almost all electrical devices rely on semiconductors. However, despite their near ubiquity the manufacture of semiconductors had previously fallen to a vanishingly small number of companies. Then, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit and factories had to shut down, a huge deficit emerged – vastly driving up the prices of everything from home computers to new cars.

To this end governments and businesses around the world are investing heavily into domestic semiconductor manufacturing, in a bid to protect themselves from such shortages in future.

In fact, the UK government has promised a £1bn investment into the semiconductor industry. The EU, meanwhile, has pledged 43bn Euros (£37bn), whilst the USA has stumped up $52bn (£41bn) to improve domestic computer chip production.

One British company is Pragmatic Semiconductor, based in Cambridge but with a brand-new plant in Durham. Despite having only recently opened its latest fabrication line, Pragmatic already has enough revenue to build a second, as well as funding in place for a third and fourth. The aim is to develop eight ‘fab lines’ in the next five years.

Despite this enormous growth, the company’s chief executive, David Moore, says there’s still significantly more that needs to be done. He told that “different kinds of problems” within the sector were driving a need for multiple types of semiconductor.

One potential issue was that manufacturers require semiconductors at a faster speed than they can be made.

Pragmatic manufactures flexible chips that can be made up to 100 times cheaper than their traditional silicon counterparts and finished in 48 hours – compared with the more typical three to six months. However, this only solves certain problems as, whilst ideal for wearable devices, these speedily made semiconductors aren’t suitable for the advanced requirements of modern smartphones or computers.

Furthermore, as an ever-increasing number of devices require semiconductors demand will only skyrocket even more.

“You go from tens of billions of connected things to hundreds of billions and trillions,” Moore said.

“Alternative supplies in high volume are what are going to be required. And being able to provide those cost effectively and at scale – that’s the big challenge.”