EU, IBM Want To Slay Vampire Power

With Halloween just having passed, the European Union is looking to slay a vampire. In this case, the fanged fellow is vampire power, the estimated 10 percent of home electricity that’s lost to devices left in charging, ready, standby or sleep mode.

Fretting at what’s already being wasted and fearing a predicted boom in the use of electronic devices, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne and IBM announced an EU initiative that “aims to increase the energy efficiency of (electronic) devices, when active, by 10 times and virtually eliminate power consumption when they are in passive or standby mode.”

image via IBM

They’re calling it “Project Steeper,” derived from the term “steep slope transistors.” These are transistors that turn on and off quicker and surer than typical transistors, and thus lose, or “leak,” less energy. With Steeper, the scientists “not only hope to contain the leak by using a new method to close the valve or gate of the transistor more tightly, but also open and close the gate for maximum current flow with less turns, i.e. less voltage for maximum efficiency.”

In particular, researchers are striving to design a “zero-watt PC” by using “novel nanoscale buidling blocks for computer chips.” This could trim operating voltage by an order of one magnitude, to below 0.5 Volt, and sleep-mode use to virtually zero.

Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne is coordinating the project, with IBM Research-Zurich playing a lead role along with fellow corporate research laboratories Infineon and Globalfoundries; research institutes CEA-LETI and Forschungszentrum Julich; as well as academic partners University of Bologna, University of Dortmund, University of Udine and the University of Pisa.

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Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.