As the dawn of the 1nm semiconductors grows nearer, chipmakers are racing to develop the needed technology to support the forthcoming generation. While market leaders Samsung and TSMC have a head start, others are working diligently to close the gap.
Japan has staked its domestic chip hopes in Rapidus. The startup has received $48.5 million in funding from eight Japanese companies and hundreds of millions in subsidies from the country’s government. Now, Rapidus and its University of Tokyo partner have announced plans to collaborate with France’s Leti to jointly develop technology for producing 1nm semiconductors.
Leti is a noteworthy choice for this partnership, given its chip components and film deposition expertise. The French firm will help Rapidus develop a supply chain for 1nm chips prior to their expected mainstream arrival in 2030.
Last year, Rapidus partnered with the University of Tokyo, the Riken research institute, and several other Japanese universities to form the Leading-Edge Semiconductor Technology Center (LSTC). The group then began exploring a collaboration with Leti, which has now been officially realized.
Together, the two will develop the basic technology needed to produce chips made with 1.4nm to 1nm processes. Rapidus is already working with IBM and Imec to bring 2nm mass production to reality in 2027. It’s unclear if these firms will also be involved in the 1nm process work.
For now, Leti will handle researching new transistor structures given the need for fresh designs as miniaturization exceeds current levels. LTSC will work to evaluate and test prototypes after they are delivered. Both parties anticipate sharing staff and technology as early as next year.
In a statement, Leti said, “Leti and the LTSC wish to establish a long-term and sustainable collaboration in different advanced semiconductor fields, including materials, devices, processes, and technology. The aim is to further strengthen global collaboration in the semiconductor industry over the next decade and to jointly define long-term R&D roadmaps.”
As noted, Rapidus is central to Japan’s plan to reclaim its status as a chip powerhouse. Currently, chipmakers in the country are only capable of producing components with 40nm processes and older. While the need for legacy chips isn’t going away, and there are still plenty of buyers, the majority of today’s chip profits come from advanced semiconductors, such as those used to power artificial intelligence and high-performance computing.
According to McKinsey, the global chip market is projected to reach $1 trillion by 2030. This sharp increase from $600 billion in 2021 is driven by growing demand from basically every sector. Japan wants to ensure its economy grabs a sizeable share of that revenue—as does the U.S., South Korea, China, Taiwan, the EU, and India. As nations compete intensely to develop and mass-produce advanced chips, partnerships have become the go-to strategy for firms not currently at the top of the industry.
Collaboration is necessary for them to catch up with Samsung, TSMC, and Intel. Both Samsung and TSMC are on track to mass-produce 2nm chips in 2025 thanks to early investment in new foundries. Intel is currently stuck on the 4nm node but plans to start manufacturing chips with its new 1.8nm process as early as next year.
Despite its young age, Rapidus isn’t far behind. The Japanese startup aims to open a 2nm pilot production line at its multi-billion-dollar Hokkaido facility in 2025, with mass-production coming in 2027. That’s an ambitious timeline, but it’s clear that the full weight of the Japanese chip sector is behind the effort. Given this collaboration, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Rapidus succeed at 2nm and again at 1nm in the years ahead.
Ultimately, the latter will depend heavily on the result of the LTSC’s latest collaboration with Leti. Japan simply lacks the technology and design expertise to begin churning out 1nm chips on its own. However, this dream could become a reality sooner than later with international support.