The Death of Moore’s Law

The future of technology

The iconic Moore’s law has guided Silicon Valley and the technology industry at large for over 50 years. Moore’s prediction that the number of transistors on a chip would double every two years (which he first articulated at an ECS meeting in 1964) bolstered businesses and the economy, as well as took society away from the giant mainframes of the 1960s to today’s era of portable electronics.

But research has begun to plateau and keeping up with the pace of Moore’s law has proven to be extremely difficult. Now, many tech-based industries find themselves in a vulnerable position, wondering how far we can push technology.

Better materials, better chips

In an effort to continue Moore’s law and produce the next generation of electronic devices, researchers have begun looking to new materials and potentially even new designs to create smaller, cheaper, and faster chips.

“People keep saying of other semiconductors, ‘This will be the material for the next generation of devices,’” says Fan Ren, professor at the University of Florida and technical editor of the ECS Journal of Solid State Science and Technology. “However, it hasn’t really changed. Silicon is still dominating.”

Silicon has facilitated the growth predicted by Moore’s law for the past decades, but it is now becoming much more difficult to continue that path.

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The iconic Moore’s law has predicted the technological growth of the chip industry for more than 50 years. When ECS member and co-founder of Intel Gordon Moore proposed the law, he stated that the number of transistors on a chip would double every two years. So far, he’s been correct.

But researchers have started hitting an apex that makes keeping the pace of Moore’s law extremely difficult. It has become harder in recent years to make transistors smaller while simultaneously increasing the processing power of chips, making it almost impossible to continue Moore’s law’s projected growth.

However, researchers from MIT have developed a long-awaited tool that may be able to keep driving that progress.

(READ: “Moore’s Law and the Future of Solid-State Electronics“)

The new technology that hopes to keep Moore’s law going at its current pace is called extreme-ultraviolet (EUV) lithography. Industry leaders say it could be used in high-volume chip manufacturing as early as 2018, allowing continued growth in the semiconductor industry, with advancements in our mobile phones, wearable electronics, and many other gadgets.

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A research team, including ECS members Stephen Doorn and Erik H Hároz, has created flexible, wafer-scale films of highly aligned and closely packed carbon nanotubes thanks to a simple filtration process. In a discovery that was previously though impossible, the researchers found that in the right solution and under the right conditions, the tubes can assemble themselves by the millions into long rows.

(ICYMI: Get the freshman 101 on carbon nanotubes from nanocarbons expert Bruce Weisman.)

This development could help bring flexible electronics to actuality, especially with the special electronic properties of the nanotubes.

“Once we have centimeter-sized crystals consisting of single-chirality nanotubes, that’s it,” said Junichiro Kono, Rice University physicist leading the study. “That’s the holy grail for this field. For the last 20 years, people have been looking for this.”

Battery technology for water desalination

Inspired by the principles of the sodium ion battery, Kyle Smith (right) is re-appropriating technology to make huge strides in water desalination.
Image: L. Brian Stauffer

Battery applications range from powering electronic devices to storing energy harvested from renewable sources, but batteries have a range of applications beyond the obvious. Now, researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are taking existing battery technology and applying it to efforts in water desalination.

The researchers have published the open access article in the Journal of The Electrochemical Society.

“We are developing a device that will use the materials in batteries to take salt out of water with the smallest amount of energy that we can,” said Kyle Smith, ECS member and assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “One thing I’m excited about is that by publishing this paper, we’re introducing a new type of device to the battery community and to the desalination community.”

Water desalination technologies have flourished as water needs have grown globally. This could be linked to growing populations or drought. However, because of technical hurdles, wide-spread implementation of these technologies has been difficult. However, the new technologies developed could combat that issue by using electricity to draw charged salt ions out of the water.

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Advancing Lithium-Air Batteries

As electronics advances, the demand for high-performance batteries increases. The lithium-ion battery is currently leading the charge in powering portable electronic devices, but another lithium-based battery contender is on the horizon.

The lithium-air battery is one of the most promising research areas in current lithium-based battery technology. While researchers such as ECS’s K.M. Abraham have been on the Li-air beat since the late 90s, current research is looking to propel this technology with the hopes of commercializing it for practical use.

A new contender: Lithium-air batteries

Recently, Khalil Amine, IMLB chair; and Larry Curtiss, IMLB invited speaker, co-authored a paper detailing a lithium-air battery that could store up to five times more energy than today’s lithium-ion battery.

(MORE: Submit your abstract for IMLB today!)

This work brings society one step closer to the commercial use of lithium-air batteries. In previous works regarding Li-air, researchers continuously encountered the same phenomenon of the clogging of the pores of the electrode.

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The Low-Hanging Fruits of Energy

When examining climate change and energy conservation, minds often tend toward large-scale grid technologies. While solar technologies and energy storage systems are big end goals, researcher from Iowa State University state that there are intermittent steps that should be considered.

“Many people consider energy efficiency to be the low-hanging fruit,” says Yu Wang, who studies global energy policy and energy efficiency at Iowa State University. “If you’re facing the target of trying to mitigate climate change, energy efficiency should be the first choice because it’s cheap and easy in comparison with other options.”

Importance of Energy Conservation

For Wang and others, replacing old incandescent bulbs with LED lighting is an important step in energy conservation. While it may seem like a move this small would have no impact on the overall energy consumption of the country, Wang and other researchers estimate the swap could yield an electrical savings of 10.2 percent by 2035.

Another step toward a more energy efficiency society deals with policy at all levels.

“In general [the future of renewable energy] is really up to the politicians to change the energy infrastructure,” says John A. Turner, National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “We have pretty much all the technologies we need. We certainly need to be able to upscale them and get things cheaper, but the issue is how do you replace an essentially established infrastructure with a new one? You need political support.”

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Advances in Sodium Batteries

With energy demands increasing every day, researchers are looking toward the next generation of energy storage technology. While society has depended on the lithium ion battery for these needs for some time, the rarity and expense of the materials needed to produce the battery is beginning to conflict with large-scale storage needs.

To combat this issue, a French team comprised of researchers primarily from CNRS and CEA is making gains in the field of electrochemical energy storage with their new development of an alternative technology for lithium ion batteries in specific sectors.

Beyond Lithium

Instead of the rare and expensive lithium, these researchers are focusing on the use of sodium ions—a more cost efficient and abundant materials. With efficiently levels comparable to that of lithium, many commercial sectors are showing an increasing interest for sodium’s potential in storing renewable energy.

While this development takes the use of sodium to a new level, the idea has been around since the 1980s. However, sodium never took off as the primary battery building material due to low energy densities and short life cycles. It was then that researchers chose to power electronics with lithium for higher efficiency levels.

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Building Better Electronic Devices

The development of the silicon chip forever changed the field of electronics and the world at large. From computers to cellphones to digital home appliances, the silicon chip has become an inextricable part of the structure of our society. However, as silicon begins to reach its limits many researchers are looking for new materials to continue the electronics revolution.

Fan Ren, Distinguished Professor at the University of Florida and Technical Editor of the ECS Journal of Solid State Science and Technology, has based his career in the field of electronics and semiconductor devices. From his time at Bell Labs through today, Ren has witnessed much change in the field.

Future of Electronics

Upon coming to the United States from Taiwan, Ren was hired by Bell Labs. This hub of innovation had a major impact on Ren and his work, and is where he first got his hands-on semiconductor research. During this time, silicon was the major player as far as electronic materials went. While electronics have transformed since that time, the materials used to create integrated circuits have essentially stayed the same.

People keep saying of other semiconductors, “This will be the material for the next generation of devices,” says Ren. “However, it hasn’t really changed. Silicon is still dominating.”

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WEB-salmonella-cucumber-c-1020x1028A nationwide outbreak of Salmonella-tainted cucumbers has afflicted states with increased illnesses and hospitalizations. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has determined the source and cause of the outbreak, the damage has been done, and the case count is expected to rise in spite of the recent recall. Many are now asking the question: how can we better control food safety?

Shin Horikawa and his team at Auburn University believe their novel biosensor technology could resolve many of the current issues surrounding the spread of foodborne illnesses. As the principal scientist for a concept hand-picked for the FDA’s Food Safety Challenge, Horikawa is looking to make pathogen detection faster, more specific, and cheaper.

Faster, Cheaper, Smarter

“The current technology to detect Salmonella takes a really long time, from a few days to weeks. Our first priority is to shorten this detection time. That’s why we came up with a biosensor-based detection method,” says Horikawa, Postdoctoral researcher at Auburn University and member of ECS.

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Developing Carbon Nanotube Transistors

carbon_nanotubesx519Since the development of the transistor in 1947, the semiconductor industry has been working to rapidly and continuously improve performance and processing speeds of computer chips. Following Gordon Moore’s iconic law—stating that transistor density would double every two years—the semiconducting silicon chip has propelled technology through a wave of electronic transformation.

Next Electronics Revolution

But all good things must come to an end. The process of packing silicon transistors onto computer chips is reaching its physical limits. However, IBM researchers state that they’ve made a “major engineering breakthrough” that provides a viable alternative to silicon transistors.

The team from IBM proposes using carbon nanotube transistors as an alternative, which have promising electrical and thermal properties. In theory, carbon nanotube transistors could be much faster and more energy efficient than currently used transistors. Nanotube transistors have never been utilized in the past due to major manufacturing challenges that prevented their wide-spread commercialization. However, the IBM researchers are combating this issue by combining the nanotubes with metal contacts to deliver the electrical current.

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