Energy-efficient tech transports data without waste heat

Thursday, 16 September, 2021

Energy-efficient tech transports data without waste heat

A research team led by The Australian National University (ANU) has developed a system to transport data using atomically thin semiconductors in an extremely energy-efficient way — an achievement that could one day help power next-gen computers and smartphones that consume less electricity than current devices.

Described in the journal Nature Communications, the energy efficiency breakthrough was achieved by mixing excitons — electrons bound with electron holes — with light in atom-thin semiconductors, which are about 100,000 times thinner than a sheet of paper. This energy-saving technology has shown highly promising signs of requiring less electricity to run by not giving off any heat, meaning no energy is wasted.

“Computers already use around 10% of all globally available electricity — a number which comes with a massive financial and environmental cost, and is predicted to double every 10 years due to the increasing demand for computing,” said lead author Matthias Wurdack, a PhD scholar from ANU’s Research School of Physics.

“A huge amount of the energy used by computers is wasted because the electricity used to power it heats up the device as it performs its tasks.”

The ANU team is said to be the first to successfully demonstrate the efficient transportation of information carriers — particles that can transport data in computers — in these atomically thin semiconductors at room temperature, which is a necessary first step in creating the computers and smartphones of tomorrow. The team hopes the technology could pave the way for sustainable growth in computing by reducing wasted energy consumption, which would in turn reduce the amount of harmful emissions released into the atmosphere.

“Since producing, storing and supplying energy always comes with a cost, including air pollution and climate change as a result of burning fossil fuels, it is extremely important we reduce our electricity usage for a more sustainable future,” Wurdack said.

Corresponding author and ANU Professor Elena Ostrovskaya, who is also the Chief Investigator at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Future Low-Energy Electronics Technologies (FLEET), said the study is part of the global effort to develop low-energy semiconductor technologies for computing and information processing.

“There are many other options for future research, including the development of energy-efficient sensors and lasers based on this semiconductor technology,” Prof Ostrovskaya said. The next stage of the research is to incorporate the technology into a transistor — the building blocks of computers.

Image caption: Excitons mixing with light in atom-thin semiconductors. Image credit: Matthias Wurdack/ANU.

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