9 August 2010


EU BIANCHO project to cut optical network component power consumption

Five organizations have partnered in the Europe-wide consortium BIANCHO (BIsmide And Nitride Components for High temperature Operation), a three-year, €2.88m R&D initiative (from July 2010 to end-June 2013) supported by €2.19m through the Framework 7 program of the European Union (EU).

The project aims to develop new semiconductor materials to enable lasers and other photonic components to become more energy efficient as well as more tolerant of high operating temperatures. The objective is to reduce the power consumption of telecoms and data networks (which are estimated to consume as much as 3% of European electricity). With optical communication systems becoming the principal way to deliver ever-increasing data-rich broadband services to homes and businesses, power reduction is becoming vital.

According to the project members, many current photonic components for telecoms applications have major intrinsic losses. For example, about 80% of the electrical power used by a 1.55 micron laser chip being emitted as waste heat, necessitating the use of thermo-electric coolers and an air-conditioned environment to control the device temperature, cascading the energy requirements by more than an order of magnitude.

The energy losses are due mainly to (i) Auger recombination in semiconductor optical amplifiers (SOAs) and lasers (a consequence of the band structure of the semiconductor materials used) and (ii) the temperature dependence of the energy gap in electro-absorption modulators (EAMs). Over many years, incremental approaches have sought to reduce the consequent inefficiencies without addressing their fundamental cause, but these approaches have reached their limits.

BIANCHO therefore proposes a radical change of approach: to eliminate Auger recombination and to reduce the temperature dependence of the energy gap by manipulating the electronic band-structure of the semiconductor materials through the use of novel dilute bismide and dilute nitride alloys of gallium arsenide (GaAs) and indium phosphide (InP). This should allow the creation of more efficient and temperature-tolerant photonic devices that could operate without the power-hungry cooling equipment that existing networks demand.

The five project partners have complementary expertise in epitaxy, structural characterization of materials, device physics, band-structure modelling, advanced device fabrication, packaging and commercialization. They include:

  • project coordinator Tyndall National Institute of Cork, Ireland (which has expertise in semiconductor band structure modelling);
  • Germany’s Philipps Universitaet Marburg (focussing on material growth and characterization);
  • Semiconductor Research Institute of Vilnius, Lithuania (responsible for the design, manufacture and characterization of bismide-based epitaxial structures);
  • the UK’s University of Surrey (which contributes unique characterization facilities and modelling expertise); and
  • CIP Technologies of Ipswich UK (a component maker with a long history of applied photonics innovation, particularly in the telecoms sector), which will lead commercialization of the project results.

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