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Silicon 2.0 Promises Superpowered Chips and Solar Cells

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Silicon 2.0 Promises Superpowered Chips and Solar Cells, illustration

Credit: New Scientist

Silicon's limited electrical conductivity holds back computer processing speeds and the efficiency of solar panels. Ordinary silicon enhanced with certain abilities could be an effective replacement, if it can be coaxed to form allotropes.

In 2014, a team led by Carnegie Institute of Washington researcher Timothy Strobel announced the creation of a new silicon allotrope that evades the band-gap problem by compressing elemental silicon and sodium together to create a shiny blue crystal of Na4Si24. When the researchers attempted to measure the compound's resistance to the flow of electrical current, they found relatively low temperatures could alter its electrical properties, while heating to 100 degrees Celsius generated the Si24 allotrope. This has the potential to yield a much more efficient solar cell, and the researchers believe Si24 production can be scaled up to industrially viable levels.

Meanwhile, in 2013 University of Chicago researcher Giulia Galli and colleagues proposed nanoparticles of the silicon allotrope BC8 could harness quantum effects to convert up to 42 percent of incoming sunlight into electrical energy, which Strobel and others are now testing.

In addition, the two-dimensional silicene allotrope was used to build a functioning transistor by University of Texas at Austin researchers, with potential to improve chip speeds enormously. Strobel thinks direct band-gap allotropes may enable integration of optical and electronic components onto a single chip.

From New Scientist 
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