Energy-Saving Electronics Breakthrough – Paving the Way for a Carbon-Neutral Society

Researchers from the University of Bristol discovered a way to speed up communication and save energy.

This breakthrough was achieved by remotely measuring the electric field within a semiconductor device. A semiconductor is a material such as Silicon that can control electric current in electronic devices.

Scientists now have a method to quantify the electric field. This will allow for next-generation power and radio frequency electronic devices to be created that are more efficient, faster, reliable, and energy-efficient. The study was published in Nature Electronics on June 21, 2021.

Although it can be challenging to design a semiconductor device, most are based on a simulation that provides the basis for manufacturing the devices for real-life uses. These simulations must be more accurate and complete, especially with new or emerging semiconductor materials.

Professor Martin Kuball from the University of Bristol’s School of Physics stated that semiconductors could conduct positive and negative charges. They can also be used to modify and manipulate current. These semiconductor devices don’t stop at Silicon. Many other options, such as Gallium Nitride, are used in blue LEDs. For example, these semiconductor devices convert AC from a powerline into a DC. This results in energy loss as waste heat. Take a look at your laptop, for instance. The power brick is becoming warm or hot. We can save energy if we improve efficiency and reduce waste heat.

An electronic device is charged with voltage. This creates an output current. An electric field is located inside the electronic device. It determines how it works, how long it will last, and how well its operation is. This electric field is crucial to devise a function that no one can measure. Simulation is only possible to trust if it can be tested for accuracy.

These materials must be designed so electric fields don’t exceed the critical value, which could lead to their failure or degradation. This will ensure long-lasting performance. Experts will use new materials like Gallium Oxide and Nitride rather than Silicon to create circuits that reduce energy loss. The University of Bristol published this work. It will give an optical tool that allows direct electric field measurement in these new devices. This technology will enable future efficient power electronics, such as electric cars, trains, planes, or solar or wind turbine stations that feed into the national grid. Societies can produce fewer energy resources because they have less energy loss.

Prof Kuball stated, “These devices operate at higher voltages which means the electric fields inside them are higher, which in turn means they can fail more easily.” We have developed a new method to measure the devices’ electric fields. This allows for precise calibration of device simulations, which design electronic devices, so electric fields don’t exceed critical limits or fail.

Prof Kuball and his team will work closely with industry stakeholders to develop their device technology. They will also engage in academic discussions with partners from the $12M US Department of Energy (DOE ULTRA) center to apply this technique to create ultra-wide bandgap technology that can save energy by more than 10%.

He said that this development allows the UK and the rest of the world to create energy-saving semiconductor devices. This is a significant step towards a carbon-neutral society.”

This technique was created for the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s (EPSRC) project.

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