Tiny Tubes for Top Performance - Infineon Researchers Build First Power Semiconductor with Nanotechnology
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. Infineons 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.
Infineons research activities in the field of carbon nanotubes are subsidized by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).
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