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Scientific breakthrough in global quest for carbon neutrality

A research team based at the University of Bristol has played a leading role in developing new and more efficient ways to power electronic devices. Led by Professor Martin Kuball of the University’s School of Physics, the scientific breakthrough is the result of a coordinated two-pronged approach: first, to identify new semiconductor materials that control electric currents and, second, to introduce accurate remote measurement of the electronic fields they produce.

The results should lead to electronic devices being faster, more reliable and significantly less power hungry which will represent another major step towards creating a carbon neutral society.

Even the experts admit that, historically, semiconductor design has been a mixture of trial and error, using imprecise simulations to estimate how materials respond when the electronic device they are in is in use. The new techniques devised by Professor Kuball and his team provide certainty and precise data on how semiconductors perform. This will eventually make them more efficient and reliable, leading to a longer life when installed in, say, a laptop or other device in common use.

The precise measuring ability can also be used to “underpin future efficient power electronics in applications such as solar or wind turbine stations feeding into the National Grid, as well as in electric cars, trains and planes.”

The research team has emphasised the importance of using new materials, such as gallium nitride and gallium oxide rather than silicon, because they allow circuits to operate at higher frequency and at higher voltages. This will pave the way for the development of new kinds of circuits that reduce energy loss which, in turn, will mean that societies will not need to generate so much energy in the first place.

The next step will involve working with industry and other academics to bring the new technology to the commercial marketplace. To this end, the team has already confirmed that it will be working with partners in the $12m US Department of Energy ULTRA centre.

The success of such cutting-edge science is in everyone’s interests, but it is especially encouraging to see that the UK is once again leading from the front of the pack. In the common interest, we should be generous in sharing our technology with others. However, this country does have a history of allowing others to hijack and capitalise on our success – this time, let’s try to ensure some of the rewards remain at home.