A Europe-wide consortium has taken up the challenge of making a significant impact on the power consumption of telecommunications and data networks, which are estimated to consume as much as 3% of European electricity. Five partner organizations have come together in the BIANCHO project (BIsmide And Nitride Components for High temperature Operation), a 3 year research and development initiative supported to the tune of €2.190 million through the EU Framework 7 program.
The project will develop new semiconductor materials to allow lasers and other photonic components to become more energy efficient and also more tolerant of high operating temperatures. This power reduction is vital as optical communication systems are becoming the principal way to deliver ever-increasing data-rich broadband services to homes and businesses.
Many current photonic components for telecommunications applications have major intrinsic losses, with around 80% of the electrical power used by a laser chip being emitted as waste heat, for example. The presence of this waste heat necessitates the use of thermo-electric coolers and an air-conditioned environment in order to control the device temperature, cascading the energy requirements by more than an order of magnitude.
The energy losses are mainly due to a process known as Auger recombination, a consequence of the band structure of the semiconductor materials used in making components such as semiconductor lasers and optical amplifiers. Over many years, incremental approaches have sought to reduce the consequent inefficiencies without addressing their fundamental cause. BIANCHO proposes a radical change of approach: to eliminate Auger recombination by manipulating the electronic band structure of the semiconductor materials through the use of novel dilute bismide and dilute nitride alloys of Gallium Arsenide and Indium Phosphide. This will allow the creation of more efficient and temperature tolerant photonic devices which could operate without the power-hungry cooling equipment that today’s networks demand.
The project brings together five leading European partners with complementary expertise in epitaxy, structural characterization of materials, device physics, band structure modelling, advanced device fabrication, packaging and commercialization. Coordinated by the Tyndall National Institute (Ireland), internationally recognized for its strength in semiconductor band structure modeling, the other academic partners are Philipps Universitaet Marburg (Germany) focusing on material growth and characterization; Semiconductor Research Institute (Lithuania) responsible for the design, manufacture and characterization of bismide-based epitaxial structures; the University of Surrey (UK) who contribute unique characterization facilities and modeling expertise. Commercialization of the project results will be led by CIP Technologies (UK) an organization with a long history of applied photonics innovation, particularly in the telecommunications sector