Materials project aims to cut energy use in photonics

A European consortium has been formed to try and cut the amount of energy used in photonic communications networks.

The three-year BIANCHO project (BIsmide And Nitride Components for High temperature Operation), will develop new semiconductor materials to enable lasers and other photonic components to run at greater efficiency and at higher temperatures.

Many current photonic components have major intrinsic losses: for example, around 80% of the electrical power used by a laser chip is emitted as waste heat. This means it needs cooling systems to work properly, further increasing the energy requirements of optical communications.

The energy losses are mainly due to a process known as Auger recombination, a consequence of the band structure of the semiconductor materials used in making components such as semiconductor lasers and optical amplifiers. Researchers have worked on incremental ways to cut the resulting inefficiencies without addressing their cause. The BIANCHO project will try to eliminate Auger recombination by manipulating the band structure of the semiconductor materials by using novel alloys of gallium arsenide and indium phosphide. This will enable the development of more efficient and temperature-tolerant photonic devices that can work without the power-hungry cooling equipment that today's networks demand.

The project has won a €2.190m grant from the European Union's Framework 7 programme and is backed by five organisations  with complementary expertise in epitaxy, materials characterisation, device physics, band-structure modelling, advanced device fabrication, packaging and commercialisation. BIANCHO is coordinated by the Tyndall National Institute (Ireland), recognised for its work in semiconductor band-structure modelling; Philipps Universitaet Marburg (Germany), which brings  material growth and characterisation expertise; Semiconductor Research Institute (Lithuania), which will be responsible for the design, manufacture and characterisation of bismide-based epitaxial structures; and the University of Surrey (UK), which will contribute unique characterisation facilities and modelling expertise.

Commercialisation of the project results will be led by CIP Technologies (UK).

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