Efficient chips

A UK-developed system designed to recycle the power used by electronic circuits has been adopted by a technology supplier to ESA and could be used in space missions.

Adiabatic Logic has developed a system that harnesses energy usually lost within an integrated circuit. The Cambridge Technology Group company claimed it can deliver power savings of up to 75 per cent in the type of chips used in everyday portable devices such as mobile phones and laptops.

Belgium-based IMEC, a major microelectronics and nanotechnology research centre, has signed a partnership deal with the UK firm that should see the power-saving technology offered to its customers such as ESA.

While much of the focus on improving the power performance of electronic devices has been on making more advanced batteries, Adiabatic’s technique aims to make the electronics itself more energy efficient.

Its core technology, called an intelligent output driver (IOD), captures and recycles energy reflected back along the transmission line in an integrated circuit. A reservoir storage capacitor inserted on the chip delivers charge when necessary and recovers energy that is normally wasted.

As well as saving energy the IOD is also claimed to stop the signal degrading and cut the number of components needed in electronic devices, reducing cost and space, its developer claimed.

Simon Payne, Adiabatic’s chief executive, said the link with IMEC was a significant boost for the two-year-old firm. ‘It has got us off to a flying start. It’s a major endorsement of IOD by a world-class research organisation,’ said Payne.

IMEC said the IOD is undergoing radiation tests, the early results of which were good.

The research centre plans to add the IOD to its library of radiation-hardened integrated circuit technology, which will be offered to partners such as ESA to develop circuits for specialist applications.

The Belgian organisation said Adiabatic’s system could be especially useful in space, where power saving is a major issue for electronic systems designers, as well as in other demanding environments where energy efficiency is crucial.

Payne said Adiabatic is in discussions with several other possible partners for niche applications of its technology, and eventually hopes to see it used in mass-market electronic devices such as mobile phones, portable computers and digital cameras.

‘If you look at the functions running on 3G phones and the like, they are going to require ever more battery power. Squeezing the most performance out of devices will be important,’ said Payne.

Adiabatic takes its name from the adiabatic process, most commonly associated with gases, in which no heat is gained or lost with the surrounding environment.

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