IBM Develops a New Graphene-Based IC With Performances on Par With Current Silicon Technology

IBM has developed what is reported to be one of the fastest graphene-based integrated circuits (IC) to date, with an overall performance that is up to 10,000 times better compared to similar devices developed previously.

IBM built the graphene-based IC as a radio frequency receiver that can perform signal amplification, filtering, and mixing. The circuit was able to process text messages without any distortion in a series of tests performed by the IBM research team.

One of the first examples of the use of graphene in electronic applications took place in 2010 when Big Blue researchers engineered a graphene device with a band gap large enough to be used in infrared (IR) detectors and emitters. This development was followed up a year later when IBM developed a graphene transistor that can operate with frequencies up to 100 GHz.

After another six months, IBM developed the first graphene-based IC circuit, which was the predecessor of the model discussed in this article. The precursor circuit served as a basic radio component called as broadband radio-frequency mixer, which processes signals by finding the difference between two high-frequency wavelengths.

Supratik Guha, director of physical sciences at IBM research, in a recent press conference said that “this is the first time that someone has shown graphene devices and circuits to perform modern wireless communication functions which so far have only been seen in silicon ICs”.

The new graphene-based ICs were also able to overcome problems such as the degradation of transistor performance with time. The solution used to solve the issue was a new manufacturing method where graphene is added in a later stage of the process in order to prevent being damaged. However, the manufacturing method developed by the IBM team still requires an expensive process to produce the high-quality graphene needed. New methods of producing high-quality graphene at lower costs are under development.

In spite of all the doubts about the potential of graphene to yield benefits in electronic applications due to the lack of an inherent band gap, IBM has invested heavily in research and the latest results show that new applications in smartphones and gadgets may soon become a reality.

Shu-Jen Han of IBM Research described the impact of this research in an IBM blog, saying that the development of the graphene-based radio frequency receivers has the potential to enhance the communication speed of wireless devices and pave the way toward new applications in consumer electronics with performances beyond what is possible to achieve with current silicon technology.

Han stated that the integration of graphene radio frequency (RF) devices into current low-cost silicon technology platforms could also spur a new wave of pervasive wireless communication, which in turn would allow the development of smart sensors, RFID tags, and similar devices to send data signals at significant distances.

The so-called “Internet-of-things”, a concept coined by Kevin Ashton back in the late 90s, would rely heavily on smart sensors and RFIDs to create an environment where objects and people would interact in an intelligent way using an internet-like backbone.