Researchers from the University of Michigan and Cornell University could potentially make computers and other electronic devices more energy efficient by requiring less charging, using a magnetic film. Instead of making a new battery, they developed a new magnetoelectric multiferroic material which allowed the processors to work with 100 times less energy, instead of using semiconductor-based systems that require a constant stream of electricity, usually provided by lithium ion batteries.
This new material, made from thin layers of atoms arranged as a magnetically polar film, could change how electronic devices are built. “Here we present a methodology for constructing single-phase multiferroic materials in which ferroelectricity and strong magnetic ordering are coupled near room temperature,” the researchers wrote in the study, which was published in the journal Nature. Processors using magnetoelectric multiferroic systems can run on far less energy than traditional processors require. The film can be switched from positive to negative using a tiny pulse of energy, which allows it to receive and send data by transmitting binary code (the 0s and 1s that make computers function).
With this material, it’s possible to create an ecosystem of gadgets and devices that require less charging which could be beneficial beyond personal use. Such technology could be used to develop powerful industrial and medical devices that are there when we need them and are more energy efficient. Being freed from the constant search for a plug to charge our devices would save time and energy, all without having to put down our phones.
The technology behind today’s gadgets has improved considerably, particularly the time we rely on to power our smartphones, wearables and other mobile devices. Advances like this one can resolve a number of technical, functional, everyday life issues once and for all. But we have to keep in mind that each new material is soon going to become a new headache for waste management, unless circular loops are in place from the very beginning, allowing these materials to be reused, upcycled or recycled somehow. Product design has a pivotal role to play in sustainability, given that materials and new products are unfortunately coming much faster that our know-how and capacity to manage them as recyclables or waste streams. In brief, what we can already suppose is that each and every new material or product will need its own life-cycle analysis, its own management cycle and its own design for recycling, if and when recycling will be the case – otherwise, it will need a certain way to be safely disposed of, until recycling or recovery techniques will be available. We are living already this problem with the rapidly increasing stream of e-waste. Spent photovoltaics, gadgets, mobile phones, wearables, nanomaterials, new composite packaging materials and complex biomaterials are just some examples of what the industry has to manage already, without adequate know-how and established practices. The shift to circular economy will certainly provide some solutions, sooner or later, but it seems that we can’t expect that this will be the prevailing paradigm in the near future, despite the efforts made.