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New project explores experimental transistor and its potential to improve the energy efficiency of general-purpose computing

April 23, 2024 8:00 am Published by

Tunnel field-effect transistors (TFETs) are an experimental type of transistor, small components on computer chips that control the flow of current and are the bedrock of modern electronics. Since the 1960s, most consumer electronics have used metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistors, or MOSFETs. Over time, these devices have been made tinier and designed to use less power — enabling the exponential gains in computing power that drove innovations like the internet and mobile telephones. However, while the demand for computing power continues to grow to enable the next generation of innovation, MOSFETs have reached their limits. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that semiconductor energy use has doubled every three years since 2010, a rate that could consume almost 20% of the planet’s energy production by 2030 if it continues.

As part of an award announced by the U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technologies Office (AMMTO), Sandia will lead a three-year project to apply advanced manufacturing to make TFETs, which promise a 10x improvement in the energy efficiency of general-purpose computing. While TFETs made using traditional manufacturing have not lived up to this promise, the Sandia team will leverage Sandia’s atomic precision advanced manufacturing capability to gain the atomic-scale and quantum-mechanical understanding into how to achieve a breakthrough with TFETs.

If successful, the project could demonstrate how to take advantage of a phenomenon known as “tunneling” and equip industry with the models and fundamental understanding of the underlying requirements to move from early development to fabrication. The project continues ongoing research at Sandia to advance electronics for national security. The research applies Sandia researchers’ understanding of materials and device sciences to realize new approaches for advanced manufacturing to improve next-generation transistors. By helping to meet the growing national need for advanced energy-efficient computing, next-generation transistors will also play an important part in future solutions for national manufacturing, transportation and energy delivery.

The project stems from a Department of Energy commitment to increase the energy efficiency of semiconductors by a factor of 1,000 over the next two decades. A related project, led by Argonne National Laboratory and funded by the same office, will also investigate energy-efficient microchip research.