IBM plans nanotech power-saving project

IBM has announced a new research project, codenamed Steeper, which looks to save the planet with a ten-fold improvement in the energy efficiency of electronic devices.

The project, which is funded by the European Union and encompasses teams from IBM, the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, and other institutions, is looking to apply nanotechnology to the problem of the ever-increasing power demands that our interconnected devices make.

The ultimate goal is to reduce the operating voltage of portable devices such as laptops and smartphones to less than half a volt - an order of magnitude lower than has ever been achieved before. As if that wasn't ambitious enough, the teams will also be addressing the issue of 'vampiric power drain,' illustrated so wonderfully by this IBM-designed graph:

In order to solve the problem of the power drain caused by devices that are connected to a power source but not actually doing anything, which IBM claims can account for around 10 per cent of an average home's electricity bill, the project will investigate tunnel field effect transistors, or TFETs, and semiconducting nanowires - both technologies which promise a vast improvement in the efficiency of electronic circuits.

Professor Adrian Ionescu of the Nanolab at EPFL is co-ordinating the project, and states: "Our vision is to share this research to enable manufacturers to build the Holy Grail in electronics, a computer that utilizes negligible energy when it's in sleep mode, which we call the zero-watt PC."

Dr. Heike Riel, head of the nanoscale electronics group at IBM's Zurich research facility, is confident that the technologies developed as part of the Steeper project will scale to all levels of electronic gadgetry: "By applying our collective research in TFETs with semiconducting nanowires we aim to significantly reduce the power consumption of the basic building blocks of integrated circuits affecting the smallest consumer electronics to massive, supercomputers."

The project, which quietly kicked off back in June but is only now picking up steam, is slated to run for 36 months - after which time it is hoped that the problem of power drain will finally be licked.