Washington: Have you ever dreamt of owning mobile devices that run for months rather than days without charging? Well, your wish may soon be granted — thanks to nanotechnology.
Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed an ultra-low-power digital memory that is faster and uses 100 times less energy than currently used memory modules.
They believe the technology would significantly enhance battery life of portable devices, including mobile phones.
“I think anyone who is dealing with a lot of chargers and plugging things in every night can relate to wanting a cell phone or laptop whose batteries can last for weeks or months,” said lead author and electrical and computer engineering professor Eric Pop.
The flash memory used in mobile devices currently stores bits as charge, which requires high programming voltages and is relatively slow.
Pop and his team lowered the power per bit to 100 times less than existing phase-change materials (PCM) memory by focusing on the size.
Rather than the metal wires standard in industry, they used carbon nanotubes – tiny tubes 10,000 times smaller than a human hair.
“The energy consumption is essentially scaled with the volume of the memory bit,” said graduate student Feng Xiong, the first author of the paper.
“By using nanoscale contacts, we are able to achieve much smaller power consumption,” he added.
To create a bit, the researchers placed a small amount of PCM in a nanoscale gap formed in the middle of a carbon nanotube. They can switch the bit ‘on’ and ‘off’ by passing small currents through the nanotube.
“Carbon nanotubes are the smallest known electronic conductors. They are better than any metal at delivering a little jolt of electricity to zap the PCM bit,” said Pop.
Nanotubes also boast an extraordinary stability, as they are not susceptible to the degradation that can plague metal wires.
Pop believes that the nanotube PCM memory could increase an iPhone`s energy efficiency so it could run for a longer time on a smaller battery or even to the point where it could run simply by harvesting its own thermal, mechanical or solar energy – no battery required.
And device junkies will not be the only beneficiaries.
“This is also important for anything that has to operate on a battery, such as satellites, telecommunications equipment in remote locations, or any number of scientific and military applications,” said Pop.
The results has been published online in the March 10 Science Express and will appear in an upcoming issue of Science magazine.
First Published: Friday, March 11, 2011, 14:26