Better microelectronics from coal

The researchers involved: (from left to right) MatSE professor Qing Cao with graduate student and lead author Fufei An (Photo: Heather Coit/Grainger Engineering)

December 30, 2023 – Coal is an abundant resource in the United States that has, unfortunately, contributed to climate change through its use as a fossil fuel. As the country transitions to other means of energy production, scientists are looking for another economic role for coal. Now, a joint research project between the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company has shown how coal could play a crucial role in future electronics. The unique atomic structures and properties may be ideal for making the smallest possible electronics.

A process developed by NETL first converts coal carbon into nanoscale carbon discs called ‘carbon dots’, which the University of Illinois research group has shown can be used to make atomically thin membranes for applications in both two-dimensional transistors and memristors (a still experimental resistor with memory), technologies that the researchers believe are crucial for the next generation of advanced microelectronics.

The results of the research have recently been published in the journal Communications Engineering titled ‘Ultrathin quasi-2D amorphous carbon dielectric prepared from solution precursor for nanoelectronics.’

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