EU research initiative under way to increase electronic device efficiency and reduce standby power consumption


Prof. Adrian M.
Ionescu, Nanolab,
Ecole Polytechnique
Federale de
Lausanne, Switzerland — (METERING.COM) — October 28, 2010 – A major research initiative involving leading academic and corporate research organizations across Europe has been announced to address the growth in energy consumption by electronic devices, ranging from mobile phones to laptops to televisions to supercomputers, both when active and in standby.

The 36-month project, named Steeper, aims to increase the energy efficiency of these devices when active by 10 times and to virtually eliminate power consumption when they are in standby mode.

The project is coordinated by Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL), and includes corporate research organizations IBM Research – Zurich and Infineon, research institutes CEA-LETI and Forschungszentrum Julich, academic partners University of Bologna, University of Dortmund, University of Udine and the University of Pisa, and the managerial support of SCIPROM.

Scientists collaborating on the project will apply tunnel field effect transistors (TFETs) and semiconducting nanowires to improve the efficient use of energy in electronics. The aim is to develop novel devices, such as the steep slope transistors – from which the project gets its name – which are more efficient in operation than today’s metal oxide semiconductor field effect transistors (MOSFETs). This allows for reducing both the sub-threshold leakage and the voltage of operation. The development of energy efficient steep sub-threshold slope transistors that can operate at sub-0.5 V operation domain will be a critical factor in the success of the project.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), electronic devices currently account for 15 percent of household electricity consumption, and energy consumed by information and communications technologies as well as consumer electronics are projected to double by 2022 and triple by 2030 to 1,700 TWh – the equivalent of the total residential electricity consumption of the United States and Japan in 2009.

Standby power consumption is notably wasteful. In the European Union it is estimated that standby power accounts for about 10 percent of the electricity use in homes and offices of the member states. By 2020 standby consumption is projected to rise to 49 TWh per year – almost the equivalent of the annual electricity consumption for Austria, Czech Republic and Portugal combined.

“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,” commented Prof. Adrian M. Ionescu, Nanolab, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, who is coordinating the project.

A reduction of the operating voltage of a device to less than 0.5 V would correspond to a reduction of the power consumption by an order of magnitude compared with present day devices.

Project Steeper is supported by the European Commission’s 7th Framework Program (FP7).