UK sets sights on global markets for quantum technologies

25 November 2020

World’s first foundry for quantum photonic components to be established in the UK

Quantum technologies are on the brink of emerging from the realms of the laboratory and science fiction into a wide range of industrial and consumer products that will affect the way we live, work and spend our leisure time.

And the UK is leading the charge in bringing quantum to twenty-first century applications.

Two fundamental properties, namely quantum entanglement and superposition have the potential to create disruptive technologies in areas ranging from ultra-secure communications to highly-sensitive imaging and healthcare diagnostics.

Several ground-breaking applications have emerged in the past decade, but market adoption of quantum systems has been held back by the lack of widely available quantum photonic components, referred to as QPCs.

Widescale adoption of quantum technologies needs cost effective QPC components that can only be achieved through the innovative economies of scale for which the semiconductor industry is well known.

Today’s semiconductor device manufacturing facilities are referred to as foundries, where a number of complex processing steps turn materials (wafers) into semiconductor chips.

The foundry concept is an essential cornerstone in bringing quantum technologies to mass-volume markets.

The UK is already home to the World’s first cluster focused on compound semiconductors, which are key enabling materials for QPCs and now leading organisations in the UK have banded together under the QFoundry programme to lay the groundwork for a quantum revolution.

QFoundry is a £5.7 million programme that is part-funded by the UK Quantum Technologies Challenge, led by UK Research and Innovation. The project will utilise standard semiconductor techniques to upscale the manufacture of QPCs that are critical to quantum systems.

Initial projects for the foundry model include Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Lasers (VCSELs) for commercial grade atomic clocks and atomic magnetometers, and single-photon emitters and detectors for quantum communications, computing, imaging and sensing applications.

The consortium led by the Compound Semiconductor Centre (CSC) and comprising Amethyst Research, Bay Photonics, Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult, CSconnected, Cardiff University, Integrated Compound Semiconductors (ICS), IQE, Microchip Technology Caldicot, National Physical Laboratory (NPL), Toshiba Europe, National Epitaxy Facility, University of Cambridge and University of Sheffield will build on the regional excellence to deliver a national open-access quantum semiconductor device foundry.

The organisations have already pushed the boundaries on state-of-the-art quantum devices and they will build on this capability to create the foundations for robust, scalable component manufacture in the UK to reduce barriers to commercialisation of quantum technologies.

Wyn Meredith, Director of CSC commented: “Widescale adoption of quantum systems needs robust, reliable and volume supply of QPCs to integrate into products, but platform QPC technologies do not yet exist. QFoundry can perhaps be described as the missing piece in a portfolio of innovative projects ranging from atomic clocks to quantum key distribution, all of which need a pathway to volume production of quantum semiconductor devices and the project will lay the groundwork towards the availability of these devices.”

Roger McKinlay, Challenge Director for the Quantum Technologies Challenge, said: “This is part of the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme which is set to make a £1B investment over its lifetime.  This impressive team illustrates that the UK can lead in the manufacture of quantum devices, not just the development of the technology.   This is not just good business in its own right but also part of a virtuous cycle in which world-class fabrication is underpinning further leading developments in quantum computing, communications, imaging in sensing.”

CSconnected is set to play a key role in this breakthrough project and Chris Meadows, Director of CSconnected, commented “We have seen a number of emerging applications in quantum technologies over the past few years and we now need to organise semiconductor supply chains effectively to address critical barriers to commercialising these novel and game-changing systems.”