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Electronic Components Technology

New construction of the smallest microchips using graphene nano-origami

Material science and clever engineering have cut the space between components on microchips to nanometres. This has led to significant performance benefits because more components can fit on the chip.

However, there is a limit to how small things can go with the current chip design. 7nm is as small as chips will go from here based on existing technology. Why? Because 7nm is the gap between components on a chip. This space is tiny. Going smaller isn’t feasible because we’re working with spaces that are too small.

It’s also incredibly expensive. Prototyping a 7nm chip costs around £80 million and there are only a handful of companies that can do it.

Graphene ‘nano-origami’ to the rescue

Graphene is a nanomaterial one atom thick. It has been talked about as a revolutionary material for over a decade and now experimental researchers have used it to develop the world’s tiniest microchips using a form of ‘nano-origami’.

The world’s tiniest microchips are 100 times smaller than silicon chips and thousands of times faster. The way they work is instead of having transistors on them, the graphene has kinks in the structure and these kinks act as the transistors.

On this breakthrough, Prof Alan Dalton in the School of Mathematical and Physics Sciences at the University of Sussex, said:

“We’re mechanically creating kinks in a layer of graphene. It’s a bit like nano-origami. Using these nanomaterials will make our computer chips smaller and faster.

It is absolutely critical that this happens as computer manufacturers are now at the limit of what they can do with traditional semiconducting technology. Ultimately, this will make our computers and phones thousands of times faster in the future.”

Is graphene the future of microchips?

Researchers are calling this breakthrough nano-origami technology “straintronics”. It uses nanomaterials as opposed to electronics, eliminating the need for electronic components on the chip. This makes the chips 100 times smaller.

Another benefit to graphene microchips is speed. Graphene conducts electricity 250 times faster than silicon. In fact, it conducts electricity faster than any known substance. It truly is a ‘space-age’ nanomaterial for today.

Instead of building microchips with foreign materials like transistors, researchers have shown another way of doing things. By creating kinks in graphene, structures can be made that replace electronic components including transistors and logic gates.

Another benefit to graphene nano-origami is sustainability. No additional materials are added during the manufacturing process. Production also takes place at room temperature as opposed to high temperature with silicon chips.

The truth is that silicon microchips cannot feasibly go below 7nm. The next step in performance evolution with silicon chips will come from heat management and power density. Graphene is smaller, faster and just as capable. The next step is for manufacturers to develop the technology and take it to market.

Overall, while the immediate future is silicon, we are in no doubt that graphene is the future of microchips. It has too many performance advantages to ignore.   

Categories
Electronic Components Environment

How does recycling electronics help create sustainability within the industry?

Thanks to advancements in material science and recycling technologies, it’s possible to recycle around 80% of most new electronics. For example, the smartphone in your hand or pocket has around 80% recyclable components.

The most valuable components in electronics are rare and precious metals. The quantity of these metals in your phone is tiny but the number of phones (and other electronics) that enter landfill is huge. This creates a lucrative opportunity for recyclers to invest in processes that can extract the most valuable components efficiently.

Recycling in the electronics industry

Recycling electronics is important to not only reduce e-waste, but also our dependency on the mining and manufacturing of new materials. 

The electronics industry is at odds with environmentalists because the industry that’s pioneering solar and renewable energy technologies generates a lot of e-waste. You can’t have it both ways. If you want technology to fight climate change, it first has to advance to a point where it becomes neutral and self-sustained.

Mass recycling is the process that will enable this in the future. For now, it is a stop-gap to minimise the electronics industry’s impact on the environment. And it’s working, with 15% of e-waste recycled globally in 2019. This figure is rising by 2-3% per year. In 2030 we expect the global e-waste recycling rate to hit 50%.

European legislation requires every manufacturer and producer to arrange and finance the collection, treatment, recycling and disposal of WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment). This is a positive step. In the future, we want to see 100% recycling efficiency, although this will require different materials to those used today.

Excess inventory management

Another area of the electronics industry where recycling is important is excess electronic components. These components are not assigned for manufacturing and have no purpose in production. They take up space and are depreciating assets.

These components tend to be discarded and written off. However, recycling is not the best thing for them. The best thing for them is putting them back into production. The old phrase “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” springs to mind.

This process is known as excess inventory management and it requires an electronic component distributor to purchase unwanted stockpiles of components. These stockpiles are then re-sold through a distribution network.

This provides a few benefits to the seller:

  • An instant, positive cash injection
  • Reduced stockholding costs
  • Reduced time spent managing surplus stock

For example, our excess inventory specialists purchase and manage stock that has been identified for disposition. This process turns unwanted electronic components into cash and introduces new revenue streams into existing businesses.

Where does excess inventory end up?

Most excess inventory ends up on the production line with manufacturers and OEMs to create new products. This puts the components into production and significantly increases the time from manufacture to end of life.

Other components can find no end user. In this case, the components are sent to specialist recycling centres who purchase the components as scrap. Around 10% of excess inventory is sent on for recycling. The majority enters production.