Gallium Nitride device being held by fingers

Vermont ‘Tech Hub’ working on proposal to land $35 million in federal funding

Source: Burlington Free Press

A critical deadline is fast approaching for the University of Vermont, GlobalFoundries and the state, which last October celebrated landing designation as a Tech Hub by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA), one of just 31 in the country.

The designation − won out over nearly 400 applications − came with exactly no money. But on Feb. 29, Vermont’s tech hub, led by Doug Merrill, regional innovation officer at the University of Vermont, will submit a proposal to the EDA for a $35 million grant to get the Tech Hub up and running.

“We’re competing with 20 other Tech Hubs,” Merrill cautioned. “It’s not assured (that we’ll get the grant) but I think we have a great story and really good partners.”

The Tech Hubs program was authorized by the CHIPS and Science Act signed into law in August 2022 to bolster the semiconductor industry in the United States with billions of dollars of federal investment in all regions of the country. The act designated $10 billion for the Tech Hubs program alone, the point of which is to spread the semiconductor wealth into rural areas like Vermont.

Gallium nitride (GaN) was at the heart of UVM’s winning proposal. The innovative material promises better performing chips for a range of industries, from electric vehicles to medical imaging equipment and consumer electronics.

Scott Johnson, senior director of technology development at GlobalFoundries in Essex Junction, said the fab is working with GaN in two areas: power converters and RF (radio frequency) communications. He said in RF communications, a GaN transistor can provide higher frequency and a stronger signal from any personal device such as a cell phone, or from infrastructure such as cell phone towers, supporting 5G “and beyond.”

Merrill said the Vermont GaN Tech Hub proposal lists six elements for the $35 million it’s seeking from the Economic Development Administration:

  • A design center with the software tools required to design GaN devices. The tools allow engineers to design, test and lay out their circuits on a substrate (again, GaN) for prototyping. Normally it costs up to $300,000 per year to license the tools, but tech hub members will get access at “very low rates,” according to Merrill.
  • A prototyping center at GlobalFoundries. Merrill said the fab has committed to running a load of wafers through their facility three or four times a year dedicated to prototype projects from local companies and local educational institutions. There are dozens of steps involved and it will take 60 to 90 days for the wafers to get through the entire fab, according to Merrill, but it gives access to the fab that local companies don’t currently have.
  • A characterization lab at OnLogic, in their new facility in South Burlington near Interstate 89. Merrill explained that once the GaN devices are produced at GlobalFoundries, they’ll go to the characterization lab for inspection and testing to determine if they’re actually doing what they’re supposed to do. OnLogic, which makes industrial computers for ATMs and other applications, is providing the space for the lab for a nominal fee and helping manage it.
  • Workforce development at UVM’s Professional and Continuing Education (PACE) program. Maureen Hebert, director of employer partnerships will be coordinating with Community College of Vermont, the Vermont State University, including Vermont Technical College, the Vermont Manufacturing Extension Center, Dartmouth College and Norwich University to funnel people into the semiconductor workforce. Hebert will target the gamut of prospects, from those with high school diplomas for industry apprenticeship programs to people getting their doctorates in semiconductor research.
  • An “exemplar project” from Resonant Link, the South Burlington-based company that makes wireless charging systems for industrial applications and medical devices. Merrill said the GaN device being proposed by Resonant Link serves as an example of what the Vermont GaN Tech Hub will be able to produce when it’s up and running.
  • Administration, consisting of Merrill’s organization, which will operate the tech hub.

See the full Burlington Free Press article.

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