Carbon nano materials to replace silicon in electronics industry

By Zalinah Noordin
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By Mohamad Salleh Sulieman

As the building block of the transistor, silicon has been dominating the electronics technology industry over five decades. Technology keep pressing more silicon into smaller microchips, and at present it is reaching its limit. Scientists work tirelessly to find new alternatives that works even faster and better, and of course, cheaper.

Carbon nano materials is the milestone for the industry. A nanometer of the carbon is 1000 times higher in terms of electron mobility as compared to silicon, thus offering solution as fundamental blocks in building microchips. Interestingly, they are several allotropes in carbon materials such as carbon nanotube, graphene and fullerene which have high potential as a silicon substitute.   

“It could exhibit either semiconductor or conductor properties depending on its carbon structure and could function like silicon in microchips. It could contain up to billions of transistors in a single fingernail-sized microchip,” said Dr. Mohd Ambri, a researcher at the Institute of Microengineering and Nanoelectronics, UKM.

It is no magic that carbon-based transistor works at far greater speed than silicon based. A nanometer sized CMOS circuits can potentially be created with carbon-based elements. It also demonstrates significantly improved performance compared to silicon-based devices.

“Carbon-based electronic devices are anticipated to be the basis of future digital processing technologies post CMOS era in few more decades, with more speed, safer for environment and is energy saving,” he declared.

While countries like the United States of America are more developed in terms of technology due to more advanced research and development, Malaysia isn’t lagging behind.

Institute of Microengineering and Nanoelectronics (IMEN), UKM, serves as one of the centre of reference in Malaysia. The establishment of Carbon Electronics Laboratory in 2013 helps facilitate in the area of research and development.

“We design, synthesize, functionalize, and fabricate these carbon nanomaterials for nanochip applications in nanoelectronics devices, as potential replacement to silicon materials,” he added.

Dr. Mohd Ambri

“I’m proud to say that we have created a nanogenerator based on carbon materials following years of research. It may be a prototype yet we are already planning to make a giant leap to commercialization.”

As a matter of fact, key players from industry such as IBM, Intel, TSMC and Samsung are highly supportive in research and development. Though the institute receives a lot of support from the industry, Dr. Ambri carefully admits the challenges the industry has been facing for years.

“Producing high quality materials and integration into nanochips are two highly technical issues that the industry from the whole world are still working on today,” he observed.

“We have been focusing on the “beyond CMOS” era in semiconductor industry and providing access to higher performance computer systems, mobile and ubiquitous society. I think we can achieve this if we can enable faster data processing, bigger data storage, energy saving mechanism and being environmentally friendly,” he said.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of TVS.

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