IBM unveils chip tech for better power control

The company has developed a technology that adds wireless communications hardware to power-management chips and promises to cut production costs by one-fifth

IBM has unveiled a chipmaking process that allows it to integrate wireless communications into a single power-management chip, which it says can benefit smart grids and solar energy-gathering.

In addition, the CMOS 7HV technique allows the manufacturer to cram a number of communications devices on to a single chip, which can deliver cuts in production costs by around 20 percent, IBM said in an announcement on Thursday. Power-management chips are chiefly designed to efficiently allocate power across complicated electrical systems, such as smart grids.

"This new process can be used to create new types of affordable wireless sensors, the kind needed to monitor and connect the smart systems coming on line in the next few years — from alternative energy products being developed by industrial firms to consumer companies looking to deliver mobile entertainment," Michael Cadigan, general manager of IBM's microelectronics division, said in a statement.

The new chips can deliver the functionality of three or four less-advanced chips in one, according to IBM. The chips are based on a complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) base, which is widely used in the construction of existing chips. That means that current designs for products on CMOS bases will be compatible with new CMOS 7HV-manufactured chips.

IBM said that the combination of integrated communications and power management means that the chip has applications for power management for integrated circuits, such as those in mobile phones, set-top boxes, cars and industrial equipment and for creating ultra-efficient LED light systems.

The chip could also be a more-efficient alternative to existing power-management chips in buildings, as its integrated wireless communications mean it can be used without installing as much costly wiring, according to an IBM document on the manufacturing process (PDF).

The wireless functionality also makes it possible to boost the efficiency of arrays of solar panels, according to IBM. By outfitting each panel in an array with one of the power-management chips, the electrical output can be optimised to reclaim 57 percent of the power that is typically lost to environmental conditions.

Full production of the chips made using the technique is scheduled for the first half of 2011, with the brunt of the manufacturing due to take place at IBM's semiconductor plant in Burlington, Vermont.

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