UCL News


Tiny technologies create huge energy savings

28 June 2006

Groundbreaking nanotechnology discovery at UCL will help the microchip industry save millions.

UCL Electronic & Electrical Engineering has used nanotechnology techniques to successfully induce the oxidation of silicon at room temperatures using light from ultraviolet (UV) excimer lamps, instead of high-temperature, energy-hungry furnaces.

The oxidation process creates the natural skin, or oxide coating, that grows on silicon, and is hugely beneficial in microelectronics. It is a marvellous insulator and in electrical applications it can protect the silicon, store electrical charge, block electrical current and even act as a controlled pathway to allow small currents to flow through a device. …

UCL's breakthrough means that these furnaces could be made redundant, radically reducing the amount of energy consumed during the silicon manufacturing process.

The research, led by Professor Ian Boyd, Course Director for UCL's new MSc in Nanotechnology, means that future electronic chips could be produced in a more energy efficient and cost-effective way. The discovery also opens up new possibilities for using light instead of heat to fabricate advanced electronic devices, as well as creating the opportunity to realise completely new materials with unique properties.

Professor Ian Boyd says: "Our finding has the potential to completely overhaul the way that the microelectronic industry processes silicon. …

"This finding means that the industry's energy, and subsequent cost savings, could reduce the prices of electronic devices for consumers and, of course, create a positive environmental impact." …