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Nanomaterials November 2018 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Ivona Bradley

Resolving Overheating in Transistors

By Madeeha Uppal and Ivona Bradley
Uppal is a technology analyst with Strategic Business Insights.

Why is this topic significant?

Scientists are looking to miniaturize computer chips to develop computing systems that are faster than currently available systems. However, they face the challenges of chips' overheating and potential device failure. Nanomaterials could enhance microchips' performance and help to dissipate heat away from the silicon base.

Description

The past 50 years have seen a generally consistent doubling in the number of transistors per unit area in computer chips. However, the miniaturization of silicon transistors to the nanoscale has had a major impact on their fundamental performance. When semiconductors, such as silicon, in transistors become warm, the thermal-runaway effect can cause them to overheat and fail. To improve the performance of transistors, scientists have focused on replacing traditional metallic interconnects with two-dimensional (2D) nanomaterials such as graphene and MXenes (see the March 2018 Viewpoints). However, transistors that contain 2D nanomaterials also overheat quickly. To overcome this limitation, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) added an encapsulating layer of aluminum oxide over a silica substrate coated with MXene to create a "nanosandwich" that can enhance heat dissipation significantly. Heat-conductance tests indicated that the thermal conductance of the nanosandwich almost doubled in the presence of the encapsulating layer.

Implications

To avoid permanent damage to the device, scientists need to keep the transistors cool. Currently available transistors require continuous cooling that adds significant cost to their operation. The development of intrinsic features, such as aluminum oxide-coated 2D nanomaterials, within transistors could help to overcome the overheating issue and is likely to lessen the need for external interventions such as fan cooling. Moreover, aluminum oxide already finds use as an insulator in electronic components such as integrated circuits, nanocapacitors, and capacitors, which could facilitate the material's use in the developmental stage of nanomaterials-coated silicon transistors. Reportedly, aluminum oxide layers also increase the transconductance of graphene and other 2D materials in field-effect transistors.

Impacts/Disruptions

In the past few years, scientists have looked at replacing silicon in transistors with materials such as gallium oxide, black phosphorus, carbon nanotubes, and graphene. However, transistors based on novel materials will likely require significant investment to become commercially available at an attractive cost within the next 15 years. In contrast, high-performance silicon-based devices that contain 2D nanomaterials, such as the UIC nanosandwich, may see quick adoption in the near term. Already, nanotechnology and computing companies are forming new collaborations to investigate nanoelectronics. For example, in 2018, carbon-nanotube-electronics developer Nantero received $29.7 million from computer-technology companies—including Cisco, Dell, and Kingston Technology—to develop its proprietary carbon-nanotube-based nonvolatile random-access memory. Nanomaterials-manufacturer Nano-C produces carbon-based nanomaterials for transistors and flexible electronics and, in 2018, received $11.5 million in funding. And computer giant IBM has invested more than $3 billion to date in nanosemiconductor technology.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium to High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years to 10 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

2D materials, silicon chips, information technology, nanoelectronics

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Developments in Nanofeatured Paints

By Madeeha Uppal and Ivona Bradley
Uppal is a technology analyst with Strategic Business Insights.

Why is this topic significant?

Nanomaterials greatly improve the properties of many construction materials, such as glass, insulation materials, steel, tiles, and paints. Roofs and walls painted with some nanomaterials-based paints can reduce the heat absorbed from the sun, thereby decreasing the need for air conditioning.

Description

In its drive to build environmentally friendly and durable structures in a cost-effective way, the construction industry looks at nanomaterials that offer performance enhancements. Nanomaterials can enhance particular functionalities of some construction materials such as paints. For example, paints that contain graphene fibers and titanium dioxide nanoparticles can absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides gases, respectively, cleaning the air in polluted urban environments.

Although various paints with nanoparticulate features are on the market already, scientists continue to make progress in developing paints with nanofeatures. For example, scientists at the University of Colorado (CU) developed a white polymer coating that can cool down surfaces. The scientists used an aqueous and acetone solution and room-temperature conditions to introduce nanoscale and microscale pores in various polymers. Each coating produces an overall cooling effect by reflecting a range of solar radiation—including infrared, visible, and ultraviolet radiations—and reemitting in the long-wave infrared region. The researchers found that painted surfaces were on average 10 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than were their surroundings. The researchers can alter the color of the coating. However, the alteration may reduce the cooling effect of the paint. Manufacturers can use the polymer coating to paint any metals, plastic, and wood building components.

Implications

In 2017, in the United States, air conditioning contributed to 15% of total home-energy use. In addition, air-conditioning systems have a significant carbon footprint and an overall warming effect that contributes to the creation of urban heat islands, in some cases raising the temperature of cities by up to 2 degrees Fahrenheit. Paints and coatings—such as the CU nanoporous polymer coatings—that can reduce the need for air-conditioning units are likely to attract energy-conscious customers. In addition, the coating reemits in the long-wave infrared region. This type of radiation can escape the Earth's atmosphere and go back into space. Such a trait is likely to appeal to climate-conscious customers. However, cooling nanofeatured paints and coatings are likely to make buildings colder in the winter, leading to an increase in heating bills.

Although some studies suggest that the release of nanomaterials, such as nanoparticles, in the environment is negligible, concerns still exist about the impact of nanomaterials in general. Paints, such as the CU coatings, that have a nanostructure, may raise the same concerns. However, some researchers consider coatings that have nanofeatures to have negligible environmental impact, as opposed to the impact of nanoparticles.

Impacts/Disruptions

Nanofeatured paints and coatings are developing rapidly as the construction industry moves to adopt energy-efficient building construction. Already, companies such as Excel Coatings are commercializing such paints and coatings in hot countries, including Australia, India, and Israel. SolCold is another company that plans to start the commercialization process of its nanofilter cooling paint by April 2019. If the CU coatings reach commercialization in the near future, they may pose serious competition for such companies. Other high-end industries such as the automotive and aerospace industries that aim to use energy-efficient materials may create demand for cooling nanofeatured coatings such as the CU coating, increasing the materials' competitiveness.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Low to Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now to 10 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Building and construction, automotive components, aircraft components

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: