How Can Next-Gen Computer Chips Reduce Our Carbon Footprint?

December 16, 2021

A Q&A with two scientists aiming to overcome limits in computing power and energy efficiency by designing new microchips 

Our laptops and smartphones are compact yet powerful because of silicon microelectronics, also known as microchips or chips, the tiny brains behind the digital brawn of almost every modern device. 

But such modern convenience comes at a cost. By 2030, about 25% of the world’s energy – most of which is produced by burning carbon-rich fossil fuels – could be consumed by electronic devices if nothing is done to make them more energy efficient. 

Silicon chips originate from a design known as CMOS, shorthand for complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor. As Moore’s Law first predicted in 1975, CMOS silicon chips are approaching limits in miniaturization and performance. For decades, scientists have been on the hunt for new electronic materials that go beyond the limits of Moore’s Law as well as the constraints of silicon CMOS chips.

Now, scientists Maurice Garcia-Sciveres and Ramamoorthy Ramesh at DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) are designing new microchips that could perform better – and require less energy – than silicon. Over the next three years, they will lead two of the 10 projects recently awarded nearly $54 million by the Department of Energy to increase energy efficiency in microelectronics design and production. 

They discuss their projects in this Q&A.