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Researchers attack transistors to slay vampire power
Written by Daniel   
Wednesday, 27 October 2010 17:40

From C/Net News

The European Union is sponsoring a multimillion-dollar research project to boost the efficiency of everyday electronics and choke the constant flow of wasted energy from their chips.

The three-year effort, called Project Steeper, promises to result in gadgets that operate 10 times longer on a battery charge and don't lose energy to standby--or vampire--power, researchers say. Although there are many different ways to improve efficiency in computing, the focus of this work is on the basic building block of all electronics, the transistor.

Everything from TVs to cell phone chargers draws a small current even when they are not in use. Called standby or vampire power, this little trickle results in a huge amount of unused energy. Standby, or vampire, power refers to electronic devices' constant consumption of a trickle of power even when they are turned off.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the U.S. estimates that standby power alone is upwards of 10 percent of U.S. consumers' electricity bills. In Europe, standby power in one year is equal to the electricity consumption of Austria, the Czech Republic, and Portugal in one year, according to IBM Research, which is involved in the project.

At the same time, power consumption from electronic gadgets is becoming a bigger and bigger share of all electricity use, to the point where they can represent 15 percent of utility bills, according to the International Energy Agency.

The problem is that transistors, which control the flow of electricity through microprocessor circuits, "leak" electric charge, much the way that a leaky faucet drips water, explained Heike Riel, a researcher at IBM in Zurich. The problem is getting worse as chip designers cram more and more transistors into tighter packages, since transistor gates have less control over that flow, she explained.


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