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IBM and boffins try to save Europe from standby mode

Want to make it more efficient
Thu Oct 28 2010, 10:43

BIG BLUE IBM and boffins at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) have announced a research initiative aimed at increasing electronic devices' energy efficiency by up to 10 times when active and virtually eliminating power consumption when they're idle.

Dubbed "Steeper", the project is funded by the EU, and will involve a consortium of European-based outfits including research institutes such as IBM Research-Zurich, Infineon, Globalfoundries, the University of Bologna, the University of Dortmund and the University of Udine, while the University of Pisa will lean in there somewhere too.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that electronic devices account for 15 per cent of household electricity consumption, and that this may double by 2022 and triple by 2030.

The IEA believes that devices using standby power account for about 10 per cent of electricity used in EU homes, and is expected to rise to 49 Terawatt hours per year by 2020.

The plan seems to centre on the development of tunnel field effect transistors (TFETs) based on silicon, silicon-germanium, and III-V semiconducting nanowires, which are tiny cylindrical structures that allow optimum electrostatic control of the transistor channel.

According to a press release, quantum mechanical band-to-band tunneling is exploited to switch on the device and thus achieve steeper turn-on characteristics compared to conventional transistors.

The plan is to get operating voltage to less than 0.5 volt. The project will run for 36 months.

Heike Riel, head of the nanoscale electronics group at IBM Research in Zurich said that by applying collective research with semiconducting nanowires the group wants to significantly reduce the power consumption of the basic building blocks of integrated circuits. µ



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