University Of Illinois Develop Technology That May Make Electronic Products One Hundred Times More Effective

Futuristic feature films generally demonstrate moveable electronic gadgets that have power sources or batteries that are incredibly slim, or small – to such an extent that you are often left wondering… what energizes the product.

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Alright maybe the other scenario could also be that the manufacturers of such productions did not think in terms of making the machine look sensible, but rather futuristic. And the term ‘futuristic’ often leaves you with a sense of marvel because we tend to try and figure things out. We see something as thin as an iPad and we wonder how this thing is powered. Where’s the battery? One word – Technology. So having said all that, engineering staff of the university of Illinois have created a type of ultra-low-power digital memory that is quicker and uses 100 times less energy than similar available memory.

This new technology could give future transportable electronic devices much longer battery life, meaning the times between having to recharge will grow more and more spaced out. The team, led by ECE Assistant Professor Eric Pop, will share its results in an approaching issue of science magazine and on the net in the March 10 Science Express. “I think anyone who is dealing with a lot of chargers and plugging things in every night can relate to wanting a cell phone or laptop whose batteries can last for weeks or months,” said Pop, who is also affiliated with the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at Illinois.

The flash storage used in mobile gadgets these days stores bits as charge, which necessitates substantial programming voltages and is fairly slower. The industry however, has been looking at different methods to provide faster, but higher power phase-change materials (PCM). In PCM memory a bit is retained in the resistance of the material, which is switchable. The research group managed to lower the energy per bit to 100 instances less than current PCM memory, by simply concentrating on the sizing. Metal wires were replaced by carbon nanotubes – these tiny tubes are only a few nanometers in diameter which translates to roughly 10,000 times more diminutive than a human hair. “The energy consumption is essentially scaled with the volume of the memory bit,” said ECE graduate student Feng Xiong, the first author of the paper. “By using nanoscale contacts, we are able to achieve much smaller power consumption.” A miniscule bit is developed by inserting a small volume of PCM in a nanoscale opening produced in the midsection of a carbon nanotube.

The bit can be switched on and off by transferring smaller currents through the nanotube. “Carbon nanotubes are the smallest known electronic conductors,” Pop said. “They are better than any metal at delivering a little jolt of electricity to zap the PCM bit.” Nanotubes are also a much improved alternative because they don’t reduce with the same rate as ordinary metal wires. Using these lo-power PCM bits in electronic gadgets could increase battery life drastically. To put this into point of view, a smart phone requires about one watt of energy and a laptop works on more than 25 watts. “Anytime you’re running an app, or storing MP3s, or streaming videos, it’s draining the battery,” said ECE graduate student Albert Liao, a co-author. “The memory and the processor are working hard retrieving data. As people use their phones to place calls less and use them for computing more, improving the data storage and retrieval operations is important.”

This new technology could eventually lead to for instance gadgets collecting its own thermal, mechanical or solar energy, which essentially means that a battery may in the end not even be essential. The technology may also eventually decrease the price tag at supercomputing datacenters by a large portion. “Even though we’ve taken one technology and shown that it can be improved by a factor of 100, we have not yet reached what is physically possible. We have not even tested the limits yet. I think we could lower power by at least another factor of 10,” Pop said. Go to New-Technology-World.com for more newtechnology news.

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