Tiny Tubes for Top Performance - Infineon Researchers Build First Power Semiconductor with Nanotechnology

Feb 23, 2004 | Technology Media

Munich, Germany – February 23, 2004 – Researchers at semiconductor manufacturer Infineon Technologies AG have succeeded, for the first time, in using carbon nanotubes to manufacture power semiconductors. Infineon scientists from Munich, Germany, have now demonstrated the first nanotube switch that can control light emitting diodes (LEDs) or electric motors. This is considered a breakthrough for nanotechnology, since scientists previously assumed that these miniature atomic-sized components were not suitable for the high voltages and currents used in power applications. Power semiconductors made of carbon nanotubes may one day make it possible to produce power switches that are much smaller and less expensive to manufacture than has been possible until now.

Nanotubes are microscopic “pipes” that are made out of carbon atoms and have a diameter of one millionth of a millimeter. A human hair is approximately 100,000 times thicker. These miniature tubes have already been used in research laboratories to make transistors for computer chips in order to store and process information, but only low voltages and currents are used for such tasks. On the other hand, the voltages and currents used in power transistors – such as the ones employed in electric motors, lamps or power supply units – are more than 1,000 times higher. These transistors serve as power switches with the primary objective of minimizing energy losses or eliminating the need for mechanical components. Currently, power semiconductors are made primarily of silicon, but their production process is relatively complex and expensive.

With their first prototype, Infineon researchers have demonstrated that carbon nanotubes can also function as power transistors. The prerequisite: Groups of hundreds or thousands have to be packed together in parallel. Infineon’s prototype can switch LEDs and small electric motors at a voltage of 2.5 volts. It consists of approximately 300 nanotubes arranged in parallel. The main advantages offered by the new type of power transistor can be seen in the significantly simpler manufacturing process, higher switching speeds, reduced heat development and in the high current densities that the tightly packed carbon tubes are able to withstand. Power transistors made of carbon nanotubes are still in the basic research stage. It is not yet clear how long it will be before they can be produced commercially in large numbers.

Infineon’s research activities in the field of carbon nanotubes are subsidized by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

About Infineon

Infineon Technologies AG, Munich, Germany, offers semiconductor and system solutions for the automotive and industrial sectors, for applications in the wired communications markets, secure mobile solutions as well as memory products. With a global presence, Infineon operates in the US from San Jose, CA, in the Asia-Pacific region from Singapore and in Japan from Tokyo. In the fiscal year 2003 (ending September), the company achieved sales of Euro 6.15 billion with about 32,300 employees worldwide. Infineon is listed on the DAX index of the Frankfurt Stock Exchange and on the New York Stock Exchange (ticker symbol: IFX). Further information is available at www.infineon.com.

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Any other trademarks appearing herein are the property of their respective owners.

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