While a diamond may be a girl’s best friend, it could also hold the key to sustaining the electrification of society. Researchers are revolutionizing semiconductors with diamonds, and this device holds great potential. It has the lowest leakage current and highest breakdown voltage. This device is expected to achieve the target of carbon neutrality by 2050.
Researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have engineered a semiconductor device utilizing diamond. It exhibits the highest breakdown voltage and lowest leakage current ever reported for diamond devices. This development paves the way for the deployment of more efficient technologies required for the world’s transition to renewable energies.
This research showcases the remarkable endurance of their diamond device. It shows that it is capable of handling an astonishingly high voltage of approximately 5 kV. This voltage limitation stems from the measurement setup rather than the device itself, hinting at even greater potential. In theory, their device can sustain around 9 kV, breaking all previous diamond device records. The remarkably low leakage current not only boosts the overall efficiency of the device but also improves its reliability.
Advantages of Diamond Semiconductors
In comparison to conventional semiconductor materials such as silicon, diamond ensures that there is no compromise in electrical performance. Diamond is a remarkable semiconductor and diamond semiconductor devices includes the following features:
- High thermal conductivity
- Good heat conductor
- It can function at significantly higher voltages and currents
- It uses less material while efficiently dissipating heat
- It has an exceptional reduction in leakage current.
Can Bayram, electrical and computer engineering professor is leading the research, said, “To have an electricity grid where you need high current and high voltage, which makes everything more efficient for applications such as solar panels and wind turbines, then we need a technology that has no thermal limit. That’s where diamond comes in.”
Diamonds are essentially made of carbon, an abundant resource. It is viable to synthesize artificial diamonds in weeks instead of billions of years. Additionally, this process produces significantly fewer carbon emissions—around 100 times less. So, by revolutionizing semiconductors with diamonds, researchers can reduce emissions on both ends.
Advancements in Semiconductors
Commonly silicon is used in manufacturing semiconductors, and they have until now met the energy requirements.
But according to Prof. Byram, “We want to make sure that we have enough resources for everyone, while our needs are evolving. Right now, we are using more and more bandwidth, we are creating more data (that also comes with more storage), and we are using more power, more electricity, and more energy in general. The question is: is there a way we can make all of this more efficient, rather than generating more energy and building more power plants?”
The Surging Need for Power
Currently, power devices are estimated to control 50% of the world’s electricity. It is projected that this number will rise to 80% in less than 10 years. Also, the demand for electricity is expected to increase by 50% by 2050.
To achieve the global objective of carbon neutrality by 2050, a radical shift in electronic materials is essential. Then only a more robust and dependable electricity grid will be established. According to a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the potential impact of not properly addressing the modernization and expansion of the electrical grid poses the following threats:
- A threat to the successful transition towards sustainable energy.
- Inadequate transmission capacity would hinder the deployment of renewable sources, potentially leading to a temporary surge in fossil fuel emissions.
- Further undermining the nation’s efforts to decrease its overall emissions can impedes the achievement of its emission reduction targets.
Professor Can Bayram said, “To meet those electricity demands and modernize the electrical grid, it’s very important that we move away from conventional materials, like silicon, to the new materials that we are seeing being adopted today like silicon carbide and the next generation of semiconductors—ultra-wide bandgap materials—such as aluminum nitride, diamond and related compounds.”
Researchers are aimed at revolutionizing semiconductors with diamonds by making a device that can handle high power and voltage applications.
“We built an electronic device better suited for high power, high voltage applications for the future electric grid and other power applications. And we built this device on an ultra-wide bandgap material, synthetic diamond, which promises better efficiency and better performance than current generation devices. Hopefully, we will continue optimizing this device and other configurations so that we can approach the performance limits of diamond’s material potential,” Zhuoran Han, the graduate student and researcher in this experiment added.