European researchers drive ultra-low energy electronic systems developments

September 26, 2014 // By Paul Buckley
Nine partners, universities, research institutes and companies, have committed to work together to develop new electronic systems with ultra-low energy consumption under the European project E2SWITCH which aims to make these ‘circuits of tomorrow’ more energy efficient.

The mission of E2SWITCH will be to develop an ultra-low power electronic system based on Tunnel FET (TFET) heterostructures built on silicon substrates and exploiting a phenomenon of quantum mechanics for operating at voltages up to five times lower than those of the current standard mobile phone circuit.  The project faces a challenge, especially in light of the explosive growth in independent functions expected for portable devices of the future.  The EPFL is coordinating the European research project, which involves not only six universities and research institutes, but also the companies IBM, CCS and SCIPROM. The project has been funded for up to 4.3 million euros over 42 months.

"Our objective is to make the next generation of transistors, which can still operate at voltages below 0.3 Volts and even as low as 0.1V," explained Adrian Ionescu, an EPFL professor and the coordinator of E2SWITCH.  At this time, the scaling of the threshold voltage impacts not only the autonomy and energy consumption of electronic appliances, but also their compatibility with new technologies for rechargeable batteries and integrated energy harvesters.

Mobile devices of the type 'smart-hub' (e.g. smart phone or smart watch) will be the first components to take advantage of such optimized electronics, which minimize thermal dissipation.  "Between 125 and 150 degrees, digital circuits begin to lose their functionality.  However, our new technology will not only consume less energy, but will be more stable over a wider temperature range, opening the possibility for more robust applications in the automotive and aerospace fields," said Ionescu.

"Cambridge CMOS sensors (CCS) realises the need for ultra-low power, low voltage sensors solution for future wearable, smartphone and automotive applications. Our core technology is based on CMOS process, and working on E2SWITCH project will promote a natural transition to beyond CMOS technology, where this project will enable us to design ultra-low voltage gas sensing platform devices, and experiment with basic building blocks using TFET solutions