US announces stricter export controls on advanced chip tech

In a nutshell: The Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) unveiled stricter export control on several items with commercial and military applications, including materials like gallium oxide and diamond, software used to design advanced chips, and new technology that could soon improve gas turbines.

The BIS, an agency of the US Department of Commerce, has announced new export controls on tech deemed essential to US national security. The rule took effect on Monday and involves four technologies supporting the production of advanced semiconductors and gas turbine engines.

All four technologies are covered by the Wassenaar Arrangement, meaning that 41 other states will also impose stricter export controls on these items. Notably missing from that list of countries is China, a strategic competitor of the US.

“We are protecting the four technologies identified in today’s rule from nefarious end use by applying controls through a multilateral regime,” said Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration Thea D. Rozman Kendler.

The new rule will result in tighter export controls for gallium oxide and diamond, two substrates of ultra-wide bandgap semiconductors. Devices manufactured using these materials reportedly have increased military potential since they work under more severe conditions, such as higher voltage or higher temperature, than devices made from gallium nitride or silicon carbide.

US announces stricter export controls on advanced chip tech

Pressure Gain Combustion (PGC), a technology under investigation that could improve the thermal efficiency of gas turbines, is also affected by the new rule. The BIS notes that PGC has potential for terrestrial and aerospace applications, including rockets and hypersonic systems.

The last technology impacted by the new export controls is Electronic Computer-Aided Design (ECAD) software created to help develop integrated circuits with GAAFET structure. Engineers use ECAD software to design, analyze, optimize, and validate the performance of ICs and PCBs. This technology is key to scaling process nodes to 3nm and below.

Restricting ECAD systems will probably have a minimal short-term impact on China’s chipmaking industry as no Chinese foundry can produce such advanced chips at this point (SMIC is the closest with a 7nm DUV-based node). However, future breakthroughs will likely take longer when it comes to sub-3nm processes.

Earlier this month, the US introduced new restrictions on exports of chipmaking tools to China. Meanwhile, Huawei reported another revenue drop. The BIS added the company to the Entity List three years ago.

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