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Green tech to fuel IC innovation

Posted: 11 Feb 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:green technology? silicon IC? CMOS?

Green technology will drive semiconductor innovations in and beyond silicon across a wide variety of applications, according to Rene Penning de Vries, chief technology officer of NXP Semiconductors in a keynote at the International Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC).

"The electronics industry has grown by focusing on productivity and using power as a resource in a formula that has resulted in tremendous success in consumer electronics, computing and communications," said De Vries. "Now the equation is different, and the industry has a role to play optimizing power use," he said.

Traditional shrinks in CMOS process technology are not sufficient to meet all the needs of this green era. The new dynamics will drive a wide range of innovations beyond the traditional shrinks in CMOS technology, requiring new kinds of materials and processes, he said.

For example, the pursuit of power-efficient high-volt circuits "silicon-based solutions are coming to an end," De Vries said. "The next breakthrough will be based on new materials and gallium nitride is one of the promising ones," he said.

In another example, he briefly described a new silicon-on-insulator circuit to drive a compact florescent light bulb to increase its lifetime and decrease operating temperature. The bulbs are rapidly replacing incandescent lamps, however they have lifetimes limited to less than 10,000 hours and generate as much as 150 degrees of heat.

Goal: Power reduction
The NXP technologist also outlined a range of new designs in existing silicon technology that could help reduce growth in greenhouse gas emissions. "The big win we can achieve is in power reduction in end equipment," he said.

For example, he described an improved TV backlight technology that if used in just ten percent of all sets could save 39 terawatt hours of energy per year. That's many times the 1.5TWh/year NXP uses to make all its chips.

The new approach uses a video processor that turns on and off elements in an array of colored LED backlights to efficiently illuminate a given scene. It also uses a per-pixel signal amplification technique to gain an overall 7.5x boost in power efficiency.

"We have the LEDs and processing technology to do this," he said.

In his talk, he also made projections about growth in solar photovoltaics, hybrid and electric vehicles and advances in smart home meters and power supplies.

We spoke with De Vries on topics ranging from green tech to 3DTV after his keynote at the ISSCC.

The talk was given to a noticeably thinner audience due to the current recession which has suck semiconductor stocks as much as 60 percent since October. Advanced registrations at ISSCC were down by as much as 30 percent according to one organizer.

The IEEE is organizing a slate of one-day ISSCC highlight events in Europe and Asia in March. They aim to bring a selection of the best papers to engineers who could not attend the San Francisco event.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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