27.10.10

EU research initiative aims to cut device power consumption

AUTHOR: Inavate

Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and IBM have announced a major research initiative, with several leading academic and corporate research organisations across Europe, to address the alarming growth of energy consumption by electronic devices, ranging from mobile phones to laptops to televisions to supercomputers.

The research project, called Steeper, aims to increase the energy efficiency of these devices, when active, by 10 times and virtually eliminate power consumption when they are in passive or standby mode.
Coordinated by Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Project Steeper includes leading corporate research organisations IBM Research - Zurich, Infineon and Global Foundries, large research institutes CEA-LETI and Forschungszentrum Jülich, academic partners, University of Bologna, University of Dortmund, University of Udine and the University of Pisa and the managerial support of SCIPROM.
Scientists collaborating on the project will apply their expertise and research to tunnel field effect transistors (TFETs) and semiconducting nanowires to improve the efficiency of energy use in electronics. 
The research group likens the challenge to a leaky tap. Even after closing the valve as far as possible water continues to drip – this, they say, is similar to today’s transistor, in that energy is constantly "leaking" or being lost or wasted in the off-state. In project Steeper, scientists not only hope to contain the leak by using a new method to close the valve or gate of the transistor more tightly, but also open and close the gate for maximum current flow with less turns, i.e. less voltage for maximum efficiency.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), electronic devices currently account for 15 percent of household electricity consumption, and energy consumed by information and communications technologies as well as consumer electronics will double by 2022 and triple by 2030 to 1,700 Terawatt hours -- this is equal to entire total residential electricity consumption of the US and Japan in 2009.
Particularly wasteful is the enormous amount of standby consumption. In the European Union it is estimated that standby power already accounts for about 10% of the electricity use in homes and offices of the member States. By 2020 it is expected that electricity consumption in standby/off-mode will rise to 49 terrawatt hours per year - nearly equivalent to the annual electricity consumption for Austria, Czech Republic and Portugal combined.
“Power dissipation has become one of the major challenges for today’s electronics, particularly as the number of devices used by businesses and consumers multiplies globally,” said Dr. Heike Riel, who leads the nanoscale electronics group at IBM Research - Zurich. “By applying our collective research in TFETs with semiconducting nanowires we aim to significantly reduce the power consumption of the basic building blocks of integrated circuits affecting the smallest consumer electronics to massive, supercomputers.”