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The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced up to $32 million in funding for 16 projects as part of two new Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) programs: ENergy-efficient Light-wave Integrated Technology Enabling Networks that Enhance Datacenters (ENLITENED) and Power Nitride Doping Innovation Offers Devices Enabling SWITCHES (PNDIODES).

“The ENLITENED and PNDIODES programs demonstrate ARPA-E’s unique approach to advancing the development of energy technologies,” said ARPA-E Acting Director Dr. Eric Rohlfing. “By accelerating the development of enabling technologies for datacenter efficiency and advancing innovative fabrication processes for high-performance semiconductors, ARPA-E is furthering its mission to improve the economic and energy security of the United States.”

The explosive growth of the internet has led to an increase in energy consumption by the Information Communications Technology sector, particularly by datacenters that store and process information in the “cloud.” Datacenters currently consume 2.5 percent of U.S. electricity – a figure that is projected to double in just eight years. Efforts to improve their energy efficiency will ultimately be limited by metal interconnects currently used to transmit information between the devices within a datacenter.
 

ENLITENED seeks to overcome these limitations by advancing high density, energy-efficient photonic interconnects and related novel network designs that take advantage of integrated photonics technologies. Because photonic interconnects do not rely on electrons flowing through metal to transmit information, instead relying on light, it is possible to transmit information with far greater speed and bandwidth using significantly less energy. If successful, ENLITENED projects could result in an overall doubling in datacenter energy efficiency.

PNDIODES: Power Nitride Doping Innovation Offers Devices Enabling SWITCHES – $6.9 Million

Power electronics devices convert one form of electricity to another so that it can be used in a specific device. They can be found everywhere from cellphone chargers to heavy industrial hardware. Today, most power electronics are silicon based, which becomes much less efficient as power demands increase due to the physical limitations of the material. Power converters based on wide-bandgap semiconductors such as gallium nitride (GaN) and its alloys offer improved efficiencies over silicon, particularly for higher voltage devices – while also dramatically reducing size and weight. However, fabrication of these specialized materials is difficult and expensive.

With PNDIODES, ARPA-E is tackling a specific challenge in wide-bandgap semiconductor production – focusing on a process called selective area doping to allow for the fabrication of devices at a cost competitive to their traditional, silicon-based relatives. The doping process consists of adding a specific impurity to a semiconductor to change its electrical properties, altering its physical makeup to achieve performance characteristics that are useful for electronics. Developing a reliable and usable doping process that can be applied to specific regions of GaN and its alloys is an important obstacle in the fabrication of GaN-based power electronics devices that PNDIODES seeks to overcome. Ultimately, the PNDIODES project teams will develop new ways to build semiconductors for high performance, high-powered applications like aerospace, electric vehicles and the grid.

Details on the seven PNDIODES projects can be found HERE.

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