Researchers create potentially game-changing graphene semiconductor

A team of researchers has developed a new type of graphene semiconductor with the potential to push the boundaries of what modern computing can do. It’s the first of its kind and opens up possibilities for performance and efficiency that were previously impossible.

Semiconductors are essential for developing technology

Today, semiconductors are everywhere. They’re an essential component for any type of electronic device and without them, our modern way of life would be impossible. Something we were reminded of during the global semiconductor shortage in 2021.

Currently, silicon is the material used in pretty much any piece of modern tech. It’s done a great job but as the demand for both higher performance and smaller chips rises, silicon is reaching its limit. If we want to keep evolving our tech further, a new nanoelectronics platform is needed and that is something a graphene semiconductor could provide.

Graphene semiconductors could push the limit

It’s a well-known fact that graphene is a better conductor than silicon, the material allows electrons to move through it with less resistance. However, semiconductors require what’s known as a “bandgap”, something that enables transistors to switch on and off. 

Natural graphene lacks a bandgap and is therefore not a semiconductor. In order for graphene to work as a transistor and become a semiconductor it has to be treated in some way. Until now, every attempt to do so has ended with flawed material.

Georgia Tech-led research team created the first working graphene semiconductor

Walter de Heer, professor of physics at Georgia Tech, and his research team have spent 10 years trying to solve this graphene riddle. Now they have finally succeeded. By growing graphene on special silicon carbide chips, they have created a version with a bandgap.

According to de Heer himself, the properties of their graphene-based material are far superior to those of silicon. In his own words, “It’s like driving on a gravel road versus driving on the freeway”. 

The new material is made from epitaxial graphene and allows the electrons to move with much greater mobility. The transistors they have created can operate 10 times faster than the silicon transistors we use today.

The manufacturing process also offers a big advantage – it’s compatible with the equipment used to manufacture semiconductors today. Machines used for creating semiconductors are notoriously expensive and not having to replace them clears a gigantic hurdle.

Will graphene become the new silicon?

According to the information the research team has unveiled, graphene comes with many advantages and enormous potential. It could be the start of the next generation of computers but it could also take years before it sees any real usage at all. We have to remember that silicon has a huge lead on any other material and it’s going to take quite a lot for anything to replace it. With that said, silicon has limits, and eventually something has to give.