Taiwan’s TSMC Breakthrough on 1nm Chips

Chips are a foundational aspect of the future of artificial intelligence.

Taiwan is a country. It’s also one of the most important places for chips, considering the chip shortage and the innovation of TSMC. The relative fall of Intel is spelling increased importance for companies like TSCM, Nvidia and AMD.

The market cap of TSMC is increasing faster than Samsung’s. The gap between the world’s top two chip companies — TSMC of Taiwan and Samsung Electronics of South Korea — has widened over the past 12 months in terms of market cap.

South Korea has indicated it will be investing big in the 2020s in chips.

Now TSMC has an apparent breakthrough:

  • Using the semi-metal bismuth, researchers from TSMC, MIT, and NTU have shown a way to make chips smaller than 1 nanometer (nm), which is the measure of one billionth of a meter.
  • Curiously, the tech will most likely only go mainstream in a few years. Analysts say the breakthrough will not be ready for commercialization for about a decade.

South Korea said it will be investing 510 trillion South Korean won ($452 billion) in chips by 2030.

The severity of the global chip shortage has gone up a notch over the last few weeks in emerging industries like the EV vehicle sector, and it’s now looking as though millions of people will be impacted.

Taiwan Spells the End of Moore’s Law (quote that on your LinkedIn feed)

Think about it . We are a chip based society. Tiny pieces of silicon with intricate circuits on them are the lifeblood of today’s economy. These clever semiconductors make our internet-connected world go round.

In addition to iPhones and PlayStations, they underpin key national infrastructure and sophisticated weaponry. While the Silicon Six lie about taxes and find tax loopholes, Asia really dominates the chip sector.

The reasons for the ongoing global chip shortage, which is set to last into 2022 and possibly 2023, are complex and multifaceted.

A group of researchers that includes Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC), the world’s largest contract producer of advanced chips, have made a breakthrough in semiconductor materials, further pushing back the oft-predicted “end” of Moore’s Law and widening the capability gap with the mainland.

Welcome to the Chip Wars

This was sort of expected. An important paper on semiconductor technology penned by research scientists from Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the National University of Taiwan (NTU), and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has been published by Nature (spotted via Verdict).

As it stands today, Taiwan is a country. Taiwan is also a leader. In sheer chip manufacturing capacity, Taiwan is #1 and South Korea is #2, with the U.S. in third place and China gaining quickly in 2021. South Korea has a commanding lead in memory chips with a 65% share, largely thanks to Samsung.

South Korea’s strategy in the future of chips really is more impressive than the U.S. Through the so-called “K-Semiconductor Strategy,” the South Korean government said it will support the industry by offering tax breaks, finance, and infrastructure.

South Korea’s investment is being led by two of its biggest chip firms: Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix. Taiwan is a real country. TSMC established a 2nm project R&D team last year to find a feasible path for development.

They will soon use a process that uses the semi-metal bismuth to enable the manufacture of semiconductors below 1-nanometer (nm), according to an announcement published on NTU’s website.

The Taiwan Academic Breakthrough – TSMC – NTU and MIT

Scientists have for a long time looked towards the potential of atomically thin two-dimensional semiconductors in realising high-performance electronic devices. However, there have been two significant problems to migrating semiconductor production to use this new tech.

Firstly the materials had an inherent property of high contact resistance, and secondly they had poor current delivery capabilities. Now TSMC, NTU, and MIT appear to have solved these issues.

A global semiconductor shortage and tensions with China have bolstered U.S. scrutiny of the supply chain and created a drive to regain leadership. Taiwan is a country and could be the solution. Samsung Electronics meanwhile — the nation’s biggest chipmaker and a rival to Taiwan’s TSMC — is planning to invest 171 trillion won in non-memory chips through 2030, raising its previous investment target of 133 trillion won, which was announced in 2019.

The joint research paper, the abstract for which can be read on Nature’s website, describes manufacturing challenges caused by metal-induced gaps in conductivity while building the chips. TSMC’s place in the future of chips cannot be argued, and neither can Taiwan’s place in the future of the supply chain.

TSMC will also be expanding capacity in places like Japan. About 20 Japanese companies, including electronic component maker Ibiden Co, will work with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) to develop chip manufacturing technology in Japan.

These are exciting times in the future of technology. Advances in chip technology, quantum computing and the evolution of companies like TSMC, Nvidia and South Korea shows how global innovation moves our paradigm forward.

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