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EU Looks to Cut Power Use

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Today, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne and IBM (NYSE: IBM) announced a major research initiative, with several leading academic and corporate research organizations 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 Federale de Lausanne (EPFL), Project Steeper includes leading corporate research organizations IBM Research – Zurich, Infineon and Global Foundries*, large research institutes CEA-LETI and Forschungszentrum Julich, 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 efficient use of energy in electronics. To explain the challenge, consider a leaky water faucet — even after closing the valve as far as possible water continues to drip — this is similar to today's transistor, in that energy is constantly “leaking” or being lost or wasted in the off-state. In 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 United States and Japan in 2009(1).

Particularly wasteful is the enormous amount of standby consumption. In the European Union it is estimated that standby power already accounts for about 10 percent of the electricity use in homes and offices of the member States(2). 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(3).

“Our vision is to share this research to enable manufacturers to build the Holy Grail in electronics, a computer that utilizes negligible energy when it's in sleep mode, which we call the zero-watt PC,” said Prof. Adrian M. Ionescu, Nanolab, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, who is coordinating the project. With the support of the European Commission's 7th Framework Program (FP7), project Steeper scientists will explore novel nanoscale building blocks for computer chips that aim to reduce the operating voltage to less than 0.5 Volt, thus reducing their power consumption by one order of magnitude.

“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.”

{complink 2470|IBM Corp.}

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