This New Material Will Help Smartphones Use 100x Less Power

Getty Images / Spencer Platt

Chances are you’re charging your smartphone once a day, but a revolutionary new material could send future battery life skyrocketing to unimaginable lengths. A new study, published in science journal Nature on September 21, outlined a magnetoelectric multiferroic material that a computer could use to switch individual atoms between 0 and 1, packing data into an “atomic sandwich” that requires 100 times less power to operate.

“Before this work, there was only one other room-temperature multiferroic whose magnetic properties could be controlled by electricity,” said John Heron, assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Michigan, in a statement released Tuesday.

Instead of supplying a constant stream of power to device components, computers would be able to send brief pulses instead without fear of data loss that currently incurs in semiconductor-based machines. “That electrical control is what excites electronics makers, so this is a huge step forward,” Heron said.

It’s big news for future energy savings. Projections show that, while we currently use around five percent of global energy consumption on electronics, that figure could rise to nearly 50 percent by 2030. Breakthroughs like those discovered by Heron’s team are vital to tempering an unprecedented rise in electronics energy usage.

A large amount of the growth in electronics use will come from emerging markets, where Silicon Valley is working hard to get the last two billion internet users online. Aquila, Facebook’s solar-powered internet drone, takes a laser-powered approach to bringing connectivity. On the device side, an arms race is taking place between manufacturers to bring the cost of a smartphone down, with Indian startup Ringing Bells announcing a device that costs just $4.

Facebook's Aquila drone in action


Unfortunately, Heron stated that a device using their multiferroic material would be several years away. The research will form the basis for performance improvements beyond the physical limits of existing hardware in the meantime, but with the earth’s atmosphere reaching dangerous levels of carbon emission, it is reassuring that breakthroughs are being made in energy consumption.

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