Breakthrough research brings the graphene data centre closer
Thu 25 Sep 2014
A research team from the University of Texas and Cambridge-based German nanotechnology company Aixtron Ltd have published a paper which describes a major milestone in graphene-based computing – the reliable production of wafer-scale graphene measuring between 100 and 300mm, suitable at last for integration with ‘traditional’ materials in computing.
The research offers the prospect of integrating carbon-based graphene, which is just one atom thick, with silicon on a practicable semi-industrial scale and within acceptable performance tolerances, paving the way for long-anticipated graphene-facilitated computing.
The ‘wonder material’ – which inspired new UK government investment this year in a climate of funding freezes – has extraordinary electrical conductivity and strength, recommending it for nano-level processor architecture, but until now has proved difficult to manufacture in sufficient area, quantity and reliability for viable use in processors.
IBM research scientist Shu-Jen Han led a project that announced the creation of a wafer-scale graphene circuit in January of this year, a project which improved on the low integrity of IBM’s previous proof-of-concept for a graphene circuit in 2011 but did not solve the issue of reliable industrial-scale production.
The polycrystalline graphene produced by the new work of the international research group boasts improved carrier transport characteristics and fewer defects, enabling the team to manufacture 25,000 graphene field-effect transistors from lab-generated graphene film.
“Our process is based on the scalable concept of growing graphene on copper-coated silicon substrates,” research leader Deji Akinwande told nanotechweb.org. “Once we had developed a suitable method for growing high-quality graphene with negligible numbers of defects in small sample sizes, it was relatively straightforward for us to scale up.”
Performance, portability and scaleable architectures are not the only reasons to be excited at the prospect of real-world graphene technology in data centres and supercomputers – the material also has extraordinary semiconductive properties which could revolutionise the issue of cooling in data centres. The average data centre usually costs more in cooling over the lifetime of a facility than the expense of powering or building it.
Graphene is the most anticipated potential technology for data centres, and breakthroughs regarding graphene manufacturing processes are doubtless more important than further proof of concept projects at this stage. IBM demonstrated its ongoing commitment to graphene research with $3bn of funding announced in July whilst UK chancellor George Osborne announced a new Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC) this month to complement the existing UK National Graphene Institute (NGI) at the University of Manchester, describing graphene as ‘a game-changer’.