Graphene is the hot chili sauce of electronics. You add it, and everything is simply better. There have been plenty of reports about miracle transistors that are made of the ultra-thin carbon variant. Now graphene is promising a 30-percent increase in speed when applied to copper conductor paths.
Smaller and faster—that is what the electronics future looks like. To continue maintaining the dynamic of Moore’s Law, the chip industry is now using a number of different tricks. Among other things, new materials are being used to make sluggish silicon faster. And graphene keeps emerging as the source of salvation. It has been used as a material for transistors in laboratories around the world for quite some time.
Now a team led by Stanford University is using graphene to make computer chips considerably faster in a very simple way. It is being used as a protective coating for copper conductor paths inside the chip. The new separator material promises a speed increase of 30 percent.
Copper wire diet
At present, tantalum nitride is used for that purpose. However, graphene appears to be considerably superior. For one thing, it is eight times thinner that the thinnest tantalum variant. For another and much more important, the protective layer on the copper wires performs a different function than it does in conventional electric wires.
Besides protecting the silicon transistors against penetrating copper atoms, the protective layer conducts electricity. And it is a well known fact that graphene is an excellent conductor. So it plays a double role in the chip: Is separates the copper from the silicon and, at the same time, it helps the copper wire transmit data between the transistors. And the smaller the chips are, the better job it does.
In current chips, electrons race through the wires between four and 17 percent faster because of the auxiliary-conductor effect. In future generations, that could be as much as 30 percent faster. However, there are still a few hurdles to overcome before this “atom-thin” approach is used on a broad scale.