Graphene has the potential to become the next technological wonder of the world, capable of rapidly advancing our technology the way silicon did when it was first incorporated into electronics. As it stands, our technological progress, especially concerning processing power, is slowing down dramatically, particularly when compared to how quickly we advanced after the introduction of silicon.
Silicon is finally hitting its limits, as transistors become smaller (nearly microscopic in scale) yet ever more powerful. But, experts believe that graphene can replace silicon, leading to another great growth in technological advancement. What would this mean for computer processing units (CPUs)? And just how fast could a graphene-laced CPU go?
This “miracle material” is only one atomic layer thick, made up of carbon atoms in a lattice, honeycomb-like formation. It is capable of conducting up to 10 times more heat than copper, and is able to conduct electricity 250 times more efficiently than silicon. Were graphene to replace silicon transistors in computers, processors would run 1,000 times faster and use far less power.
Ideas have been floated to coat copper wiring used in processors with graphene. As wiring in computer processors get smaller, the amount of current density increases, which in turn raises the amount of heat produced. This can lead to higher amounts of resistive-capacitive delay, or RC delay, preventing electronics from higher speeds. Graphene-coated copper wiring can help prevent harmful electromigration and stop the copper from potentially penetrating the dielectric layer.
However, before we claim graphene is the next technological panacea, there are still some obstacles to overcome. The first issue comes from availability and production scale. China controls approximately 80% of graphite market, and large quantities of usable graphite in the rest of the world are few and far between. This means that even with the development of high speed graphene-based technology, it will be a difficult process moving these products to commercial availability, unless steps are made to encourage graphene trade.
Graphene’s greatest strength is also its other weakness: its high capability for electric conductivity. While silicon naturally has a band gap, an energy range where it does not conduct electricity, graphene does not. Having a band gap is essential to controlling the flow of electricity in processors, and without it, graphene’s use, particularly in improving CPU power, won’t be possible.
But the discovery of graphene didn’t win a Nobel Prize in 2010 for no reason. The potential for graphene remains practically immeasurable, and researchers are already finding ways around the difficulties graphene faces. A team from the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2) claims to have created a graphene-like material with a band gap similar to silicon, which represents a significant step toward full utilization of graphene in electronic products.
Graphene has the clear capability to create a massive surge in technological advancements, and the material’s negative aspects are quickly being resolved through research and development. Commercial use might still feel far away, but it would be foolish to deny that once it reaches the masses, it will change the world.