The EU’s Horizon 2020 research program will be funding a project where vanadium dioxide can be used to outperform silicon and develop low-power electronic devices.
The compound can also be used to create radiofrequency electronic functions for aerospace communication systems, it was revealed by École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) on Monday.
Vanadium dioxide (VO2) stands to change the way we control the flow of electrons through a circuit, scientists claim. It can also act as an insulator at room temperature but can behave as a conductor at temperatures above 68°C.
The EU Horizon 2020 project called the Phase-Change Switch will study this behavior, also known as metal-insulator transition. The project has been granted €3.9 million of EU funding. École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) will coordinate the project after being chosen in a selection process.
Uses in artificial intelligence
Other applications of the compound, such as in neuromorphic computing and artificial intelligence, are also being considered. The project has already drawn the attention of two major companies, France’s Thales and the Swiss branch of IBM Research because of the variety of high-potential applications that could come out of the new technology.
Universities, such as Max-Planck-Gesellschaft in Germany and Cambridge University in the United Kingdom are also interested. A spin-off of Aachen University in Germany, Gesellschaft für Angewandte Mikro- und Optoelektronik (AMO GmbH) is also said to be participating in the research process.
Going from crystalline to metallic
Scientists have long known about the electronic properties of vanadium dioxide (VO2 ) but they have not been explained until now. It is now known that the atomic structure will change as the temperature rises. It goes from a crystalline structure at room temperature to metallic at temperatures above 68°C.
Sensitive to injecting electrical power
VO2 is also known to be sensitive to other factors that could cause it to change phases. These include injecting electrical power, optically, or applying a THz radiation pulse, according to researchers.
Recently, scientists have been able to make ultra-compact and modulable frequency filters. This technology also utilizes VO2 and phase-change switches. It is also known to be effective in the frequency range crucial for space communication systems, research has revealed.
Issue of reaching higher temps
Reaching the full potential of VO2 has so far been difficult because the transition temperature of 68°C was too low for modern electronic devices in which circuits must run at 100°C.
But recently researchers were able to find a solution to this problem. They discovered that adding germanium to VO2 film can raise the material’s phase change temperature to over 100°C. These discoveries may promote further research into applications for VO2 in very-low-power electronic devices.
Other application fields could include neuromorphic computing and high-frequency radars for self-driving cars in addition to space communications.