Researchers uncover way to reduce PC, phone energy consumption


Australian researchers have developed a new system to transport data in a way that is extremely energy-efficient and that could potentially help power next-generation computers and smartphones that consume less electricity than current devices.

The new system, which transports data at room temperature using atomically-thin semiconductors, has shown highly promising signs of requiring less electricity to run by not giving off any heat, meaning no energy is wasted.

The process of excitons mixing with light in one-atom thin semiconductors. Image credit: The Australian National University.

The Australian National University (ANU) team behind the new system, who also worked on it as part of a study with researchers in Germany and Poland, hope that it could pave the way for sustainable future growth in computing by reducing wasted energy consumption.

“Computers already use around 10 per cent of all globally available electricity, a number which comes with a massive financial and environmental cost, and is predicted to double every 10 years due to the increasing demand for computing,” PhD scholar Matthias Wurdack, from the ANU Research School of Physics, said.

“Estimates show that our computing devices, the internet, data centres and other digital technologies account for at least two per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, which is similar to aviation pre-COVID.”

The breakthrough, published in Nature Communications on Friday and peer-reviewed, is achieved by mixing excitons – electrons bound with a hole – with light at room temperature in one-atom thin semiconductors, which are about 100,000 times thinner than a sheet of paper.

Mr Wurdack, who is the lead author of the research, said this new development addresses the heating problem that drives electricity consumption in thousands of massive, factory-sized data centres around the world.

“A huge amount of the energy used by computers is wasted because the electricity used to power it heats up the device as it performs its tasks,” he said.

The ANU researchers are hopeful a move towards new energy-efficient information technologies and a potential reduction in global energy consumption could reduce the need for as many coal-fired power plants, which in turn would reduce the amount of harmful emissions released into the atmosphere.

“Since producing, storing, and supplying energy always comes with a cost, including air pollution and climate change as a result of burning fossil fuels, it is extremely important we reduce our electricity usage for a more sustainable future,” Mr Wurdack said.

The next stage of the research is to incorporate the technology into a transistor – the building blocks of computers.

Corresponding author and ANU Professor Elena Ostrovskaya said this research is part of the global effort to develop low-energy semiconductor technologies for computing and information processing.

“There are many other options for future research, including the development of energy-efficient sensors and lasers based on this semiconductor technology,” Professor Ostrovskaya said.

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