• 3 minutes e-car sales collapse
  • 6 minutes America Is Exceptional in Its Political Divide
  • 11 minutes Perovskites, a ‘dirt cheap’ alternative to silicon, just got a lot more efficient
  • 1 day How Far Have We Really Gotten With Alternative Energy
  • 2 days The United States produced more crude oil than any nation, at any time.
  • 2 days China deletes leaked stats showing plunging birth rate for 2023
  • 3 days The European Union is exceptional in its political divide. Examples are apparent in Hungary, Slovakia, Sweden, Netherlands, Belarus, Ireland, etc.
  • 8 days Bad news for e-cars keeps coming
Brian Westenhaus

Brian Westenhaus

Brian is the editor of the popular energy technology site New Energy and Fuel. The site’s mission is to inform, stimulate, amuse and abuse the…

More Info

Premium Content

New Microcapacitors Break Energy Density and Power Barriers

  • Berkeley Lab scientists create microcapacitors with ultrahigh energy and power density.
  • The microcapacitors are made with engineered thin films of hafnium oxide and zirconium oxide.
  • The technology could lead to smaller, faster, and more energy-efficient microelectronic devices.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory scientists have developed microcapacitors with ultrahigh energy and power density, paving the way for on-chip energy storage in electronic devices. Many readers have seen the populations of capacitors installed to computer motherboards and other power-intensive silicon chip circuit boards.

The findings, published in the journal Nature, pave the way for advanced on-chip energy storage and power delivery in next-generation electronics.

In the ongoing quest to make electronic devices ever smaller and more energy efficient, researchers want to bring energy storage directly onto microchips, reducing the losses incurred when power is transported between various device components. To be effective, on-chip energy storage must be able to store a large amount of energy in a very small space and deliver it quickly when needed – requirements that can’t be met with existing technologies.

Addressing this challenge, scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and UC Berkeley have achieved record-high energy and power densities in microcapacitors made with engineered thin films of hafnium oxide and zirconium oxide, using materials and fabrication techniques already widespread in chip manufacturing.

Microcapacitors made with engineered hafnium oxide/zirconium oxide films in 3D trench capacitor structures – the same structures used in modern microelectronics – achieve record-high energy storage and power density, paving the way for on-chip energy storage. Image Credit: Nirmaan Shanker/Suraj Cheema, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Click the press release link for a larger and more images.

Sayeef Salahuddin, the Berkeley Lab faculty senior scientist and UC Berkeley professor who led the project explained, “We’ve shown that it’s possible to store a lot of energy in microcapacitors made from engineered thin films, much more than what is possible with ordinary dielectrics. What’s more, we’re doing this with a material that can be processed directly on top of microprocessors.”

This research is part of broader efforts at Berkeley Lab to develop new materials and techniques for smaller, faster, and more energy-efficient microelectronics.

Capacitors are one of the basic components of electrical circuits but they can also be used to store energy. Unlike batteries, which store energy through electrochemical reactions, capacitors store energy in an electric field established between two metallic plates separated by a dielectric material. Capacitors can be discharged very rapidly when needed, allowing them to deliver power quickly, and they do not degrade with repeated charge-discharge cycles, giving them much longer lifespans than batteries. However, capacitors generally have much lower energy densities than batteries, meaning they can store less energy per unit volume or weight, and that problem only gets worse when you try to shrink them down to microcapacitor size for on-chip energy storage.

At Lawrence Berkeley National Lab the researchers achieved their record-breaking microcapacitors by carefully engineering thin films of HfO2-ZrO2 to achieve a negative capacitance effect. Normally, layering one dielectric material on top of another results in an overall lower capacitance. However, if one of those layers is a negative capacitance material, then the overall capacitance actually increases. In earlier work, Salahuddin and colleagues demonstrated the use of negative capacitance materials to produce transistors that can be operated at substantially lower voltages than conventional MOSFET transistors. Here, they harnessed negative capacitance to produce capacitors capable of storing greater amounts of charge, and therefore energy.

The crystalline films are made from a mix of HfO2 and ZrO2 grown by atomic layer deposition, using standard materials and techniques from industrial chip fabrication. Depending on the ratio of the two components, the films can be ferroelectric, where the crystal structure has a built-in electric polarization, or antiferroelectric, where the structure can be nudged into a polar state by applying an electric field. When the composition is tuned just right, the electric field created by charging the capacitor balances the films at the tipping point between ferroelectric and antiferroelectric order, and this instability gives rise to the negative capacitance effect where the material can be very easily polarized by even a small electric field.

Suraj Cheema, a postdoc in Salahuddin’s group and one of the lead authors of the paper explained, “That unit cell really wants to be polarized during the phase transition, which helps produce extra charge in response to an electric field. This phenomenon is one example of a negative capacitance effect but you can think of it as a way of capturing way more charge than you normally would have.” Nirmaan Shanker, a graduate student in Salahuddin’s group, is also a co-lead author.

To scale up the energy storage capability of the films, the team needed to increase the film thickness without allowing it to relax out of the frustrated antiferroelectric-ferroelectric state. They found that by interspersing atomically thin layers of aluminum oxide after every few layers of HfO2-ZrO2, they could grow the films up to 100 nm thick while still retaining the desired properties.

Finally, working with collaborators at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, the researchers integrated the films into three-dimensional microcapacitor structures, growing the precisely layered films in deep trenches cut into silicon with aspect ratios up to 100:1. These 3D trench capacitor structures are used in today’s DRAM capacitors and can achieve much higher capacitance per unit footprint compared to planar capacitors, allowing greater miniaturization and design flexibility. The properties of the resulting devices are record-breaking: compared to the best electrostatic capacitors today, these microcapacitors have nine times higher energy density and 170 times higher power density (80 mJ-cm-2 and 300 kW-cm-2, respectively).

“The energy and power density we got are much higher than we expected,” Salahuddin noted. “We’ve been developing negative capacitance materials for many years, but these results were quite surprising.”

These high-performance microcapacitors could help meet the growing demand for efficient, miniaturized energy storage in microdevices such as Internet-of-Things sensors, edge computing systems, and artificial intelligence processors. The researchers are now working on scaling up the technology and integrating it into full-size microchips, as well as pushing the fundamental materials science forward to improve the negative capacitance of these films even more.

Cheema added, “With this technology, we can finally start to realize energy storage and power delivery seamlessly integrated on-chip in very small sizes. It can open up a new realm of energy technologies for microelectronics.”

Parts of this work were performed at the Molecular Foundry, a DOE Office of Science nanoscience user facility located at Berkeley Lab.



This is quite interesting as a development for more miniaturization. The idea that a chip could substitute for an entire circuit board is almost a revolution all by itself. One wonders would there be anything to see other than the connection facilities on the chip? There might only be a connection and a heat sink to be seen.

The technology will very likely see market uptake. For now, there are rows of folks soldering up circuit boards in assembly line fashion by the millions.

This means this tech will likely be better and cheaper coming to consumers soon. Then off to a landfill someday with much less toxic elements.

By Brian Westenhaus via New Energy and Fuel

More Top Reads From Oilprice.com:

Download The Free Oilprice App Today

Back to homepage

Leave a comment
  • George Doolittle on May 12 2024 said:
    According to Elon Musk capacitor energy storage was his area of expertise "super-capacitors" as energy storage specifically so be interesting to hear his take but yes I agree this is no small matter (so to speak) if re-producable and able to be manufactured to scale. This could have a huge impact upon creating clock for example or limiting the impact of apps that run "in the background" which are an incredible drain on the regular battery.

Leave a comment

EXXON Mobil -0.35
Open57.81 Trading Vol.6.96M Previous Vol.241.7B
BUY 57.15
Sell 57.00
Oilprice - The No. 1 Source for Oil & Energy News