When Li Ta-sen was a little boy, he used to walk to school through fields of sugarcane taller than himself. Some 40 years later, he is making a living by selling off the same fields as a property boom takes hold in his hometown of Shanhua. The reason for the construction frenzy in the once shabby rural town in southern Taiwan is simple: the arrival of the world’s most advanced chip factory. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the largest contract chipmaker in the world, is building a plant to make 3 nanometre chips, semiconductors expected to be up to 70 per cent faster and more power-efficient than the most advanced in production now and which will be used in devices from smartphones to supercomputers. “Prices for the adjacent agricultural land tripled last year, and we had the highest transaction volume in our 10-year history,” says Li, who runs the local branch of real estate broker Century 21, and has watched TSMC engineers snap up newly-built apartments and town houses.
But the impact of TSMC’s new fabrication plant, or “fab”, radiates far beyond southern Taiwan. In the world of semiconductors, this is the centre of the universe. The plant, due to start mass production next year, will use process technology which so far only TSMC and South Korea’s Samsung Electronics have mastered — at present, the most advanced chips are 5nm. The new chips bring huge advantages for customers: the smaller the transistors on a chip, the lower the energy consumption and higher the speed