A team of researchers at UCLA has developed a new way to make super-fast graphene transistors that are comparable to transistors that use more expensive (and toxic) materials. If successful commercially, the new graphene based technology could play a key role in energy conservation and waste reduction related to the rising tide of electronic devices in the world.
Like it or not, electronics are here to stay — and to grow into new markets as the developing world catches up with industrialized countries. By reducing their size, making them more energy efficient, and cutting or outright eliminating the use of hazardous substances in their manufacture, it is possible to engineer a more sustainable path to a global electronic future.
Graphene and Sustainable Electronics
Graphene, a substance discovered just a few years ago, has emerged as a sustainability superhero due to its high strength and unique properties, combined with its incredibly compact size. Graphene is a form of carbon that occurs in sheets just one atom thick. Graphene could be an ideal platform for reducing the size of electronic devices, but of course there’s a catch — the material is very difficult to manipulate on an atomic scale. Researchers are coming up with various ways to deal with that. For example, a team at the University of South Florida has developed graphene nanowires, formed by disrupting the structure of graphene sheets, and a team at the University of Illinois has found that nanodroplets of water can be used as “chaperones” to manipulate graphene into shapes.
High Speed Transistors from Graphene
The UCLA team developed a new process for making graphene nanowire gates (the “switch” in transistors) that align themselves precisely, without an assist. The ability to self-align is critical in modern transistors due to their small size. UCLA’s process was a breakthrough because unlike previous attempts, the results were free of defects that would otherwise interfere with performance. The team was able to demonstrate a speed comparable to conventional high speed transistors, such as those made with gallium arsenide and indium phosphide, both of which have toxic properties that could complicate disposal and recycling operations.
Image: Gate by Jean Pichot on flickr.com.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.