Dissolve and Grow Wires to Combat Vampire Power

Wednesday 2nd November 2016

We have posted about vampire power in the past, the phantom energy used by appliance that suck energy continually even when even when switched off, or on standby. Each appliance is only using small amounts of energy , so we tend to ignore it. But add together all that energy consumed by those stand by settings in your home, across the region and then across the nation, well they certainly consume a lot of energy

For instance, the U.S. National Resource Defense Council reports that through vampire power usage Americans waste up to $19 billion each year in electricity costs.

With these frightening stats in mind researchers at the University of Utah in the U.S. have come up with a way to produce microscopic electronic switches for appliances and devices that can grow and dissolve wires inside the circuitry that instantly connect and disconnect electrical flow. Yes, you read that right - dissolve wires and grow them!

The researchers and engineers led by electrical and computer engineering professor Massood Tabib-Azar see their innovation could be used in consumer products such as smartphones and laptops.

Their innovation will mean that all-digital appliances, such as televisions and video game consoles, could be much more energy efficient. Plus their “growing and dissolving wires” used in devices that use batteries mean they could run at least twice as long on a single charge.

The explanation of how energy is wasted you need to realise that electronic devices often need to performed various functions, meaning the solid-state switches that instantaneously turn electrical flow on and off throughout the circuitry waste small doses of electricity while they are in a waiting state.

Tabib-Azar states: “Whenever they are off, they are not completely off, and whenever they are on, they may not be completely on. That uses battery life. It heats up the device, and it’s not doing anything for you. It’s completely wasted power.”

Hence the Utah teams have come up with a new kind of electronic circuits switch that uses solid electrolytes. These are made of materials such as copper sulfide, which can literally grow a wire between two electrodes as and when an electrical current passes through them. This will then of course turn the switch on, by completing the circuit. When the polarity of the electrical current is reversed, the metallic wire breaks down, this gap switches off the power completely - no connection, no power waste. A third electrode is employed to control this process of growing and breaking down the wire.

We are talking modern electronics here, so in your mind you will imagine a gap a lot wider than the reality. Tabib-Azar says the gap between the electrodes can be a small as a nanometer, that’s 1/100,000 of the diameter of a human hair. This means billions of these switches can be built onto solid-state memory chips, or computer processors.

This innovation also produces less heat as less electrical current is constantly running though the device. You know how hot your laptop or phone can get, that heat buildup is a problem affecting the reliability of components over time.

They are looking now to speed up the process, as it is a little slower than the current silicon based switches, but the researchers are confident it is a problem they will overcome.

Very interesting, it kills ‘vampire power’ by the wires sort of ‘dying and coming back to life’ - very apt!

Picture of Professor Massood Tabib-Azar, photo by: Dan Hixson/University of Utah College of Engineering, supplied by them.

Categories: General, Reviews, Technology

Wednesday 2nd November 2016

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