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Energy use: electronic devices

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The energy efficiency of electronic devices, particularly computers, is an important research topic across the electrical engineering and computer science sides of the department. One important aim is to dramatically decrease the power use of proliferating computer servers and data centers.

Progress is required across all levels of electronic systems, from engineering materials for devices to circuit optimization, redesigns of circuit architectures, governing software, and computing paradigms. It is predicted that continued research in energy-aware design has the potential to reduce energy consumption by several orders of magnitude. As an example, to implement a logic function using engineered hardware requires up to 1000 times less energy than implementation on a microprocessor running software. MIT is actively engaged in many system-level efforts to optimize energy efficiency, with recent examples such as development of leading ultra-low-voltage digital circuits, the use of III-V devices for computational logic, the use of photonics for low-power intra- and inter-chip communications, the invention of ground-breaking amplifier-less analog circuits, and low-power digitally-assisted radio-frequency circuits. Recently demonstrated techniques show the potential to reduce power dissipation by more than an order of magnitude by integrating research across disciplines.

Very High Frequency Electronic Power Conversion
David Perreault

Almost all electronic devices require power converters to control or regulate their input electrical power. A principal means for improving performance and reducing the size of such power electronics is through increases in switching frequency. However, conventional power converter designs are subject to a number of constraints that greatly limit their practical switching frequency. We are developing power conversion circuits that operate at very high frequencies (30-300 MHz), two orders of magnitude higher than conventional designs. This work has demonstrated the ability to achieve and maintain high efficiency (85-90+%) at very high frequencies across wide operating conditions (>2:1 voltage, >20:1 power), and to achieve extremely fast transient response. The application of this technology to extremely high efficiencies (>95%) at contemporary switching frequencies is now being pursued.

Addressing the Energy Challenge with Nitride Semiconductors
Tomás Palacios

Our group focuses on the development of new electronic devices based on nitride semiconductors. These materials are ideal to address many of the challenges that the world is currently facing in energy generation, conversion and saving. For example, the use of GaN-based white light emitting diodes (LEDs) instead of incandescent light bulbs would increase the efficiency of white lighting from 4% to at least 52 % (80% theoretical maximum). Also, in electronic applications, the use of GaN power amplifiers for wireless communications at high frequencies allows important efficiency improvements that simplify the system design, reduce its cost and enable significant energy savings. Another key area of energy-related research is the use of GaN transistors for power electronics. Finally, the higher frequency and power allowed by GaN transistors will enable unprecedented performance in hybrid vehicles, photovoltaic systems and wind turbines.

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