17 March 2022
Germany’s ‘EdgeLimit-Green ICT’ project gains funding for three-year implementation phase
Funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) for three years as part of the ‘Green ICT’ initiative, Fraunhofer Institutes IAF (Institute for Applied Solid State Physics, in Freiburg) and IIS (Institute for Integrated Circuits, in Erlangen) - together with the Institute for Sustainable Systems Engineering (INATECH) at the University of Freiburg and multiple industrial partners – have begun the implementation phase of the project ‘EdgeLimit-Green ICT’, which aims to develop and test an energy-efficient edge-cloud system for mobile radio base stations by 2025, making use of aluminium scandium nitride (AlScN)-based components and demand-driven control.
EdgeLimit-Green ICT follows a successful preliminary project from October 2020 to June 2021 involving the investigation and design of innovative semiconductor technologies and application approaches for energy-efficient mobile radio systems. In summer 2021, through the BMBF’s innovation competition ‘Green ICT—Electronics for energy-saving information and communication technology’, the project was selected among ten research groups to receive continued funding.
“Energy-efficient microelectronics, as we are developing in ‘EdgeLimit-Green ICT’, exemplifies how new technologies can become more powerful and at the same time conserve resources,” notes project coordinator professor Rüdiger Quay, executive director of Fraunhofer IAF. “The novel power semiconductor components being developed by Fraunhofer IAF, in combination with the intelligent, AI-assisted networking and control of the antenna system designed by Fraunhofer IIS, promise to halve energy losses during millimeter-wave 5G transmission,” he adds.
The industrial partners in the project network are supporting the project through collaborations in the development of novel high-frequency transistors (Nokia), circuit processing (United Monolithic Semiconductors GmbH, UMS), and the real-world evaluation and transfer of test results (Deutsche Telekom AG).
Savings due to energy-efficient AlScN components and intelligent cloud-edge implementation
On the one hand, the high energy-saving potential of the antenna system that will be developed in EdgeLimit-Green ICT results from the superior material properties of the power semiconductor aluminum scandium nitride. Fraunhofer IAF produces AlScN by metal-organic chemical vapor deposition (MOCVD) and uses the material in fabricating high-electron-mobility transistors (HEMTs). Due to its high current-carrying capacity, AlScN potentially allows significantly higher power density and gain compared with established semiconductors such as silicon, gallium arsenide (GaAs) or gallium nitride (GaN).
On the other hand, the savings result from efficient design of the electronics. “We are developing an innovative electronics architecture at Fraunhofer IIS to make possible intelligent networking and demand-driven control of the transmitter and receiver modules with the support of artificial intelligence (AI),” says Thomas von der Grün, head of Locating and Communication Systems Department at Fraunhofer IIS. “This provides for a partial shift of processing capacities from the central infrastructure (cloud) to the edge of the network and the implementation of data processing systems.”
Overall, the combination of energy-efficient components and optimized organization should reduce energy losses in the remote radio head (RRH) implemented in EdgeLimit-Green ICT by at least 50%. For this purpose, researchers double the power efficiency at the amplifier level at new frequencies of 26-34GHz, halve the loss in power converters, and implement demand-driven system control.