Tunneling Field Effect transistors (TFETs) have been worked on for many years as an alternative to today’s FETs, which are the transistors used in power electronics including electric cars. The main advantage of TFETs over simple FETs is efficiency by the fact that it produces less heat.
Now, researchers from University of Notre Dame, ID and Pennsylvania State University announced that they discovered how to make TFETs more efficient. This news could be the start of a new era of miniaturization in microprocessors, more efficient electric vehicles and much more powerful computers. So far, TFETs haven’t reached the performance levels of classic FETs, but it’s expected that in the following year or so they’ll be able to even surpass them.
If you don’t know (or remember) how regular field effect transistors work, you can imagine it as a faucet having three components: the source (Source), the rotary part (Gate) and the exit pipe (Drain). They work much alike, but you guessed the difference: it’s much harder to confine electricity and have it flow efficiently through the circuit.
“A transistor today acts much like a dam with a moveable gate” says Alan Seabaugh, professor of electrical engineering at Notre Dame and the Frank M. Freimann Director of MIND (Midwest Institute for Nanoelectronics Discovery). “The rate at which water flows, the current, depends on the height of the gate.”
If you remember from the physics classes, in regular conductors (including the gate of FET transistors) the electrons flow on the surface, and not through the material. In TFETs, however, they use the ability of electrons to “tunnel” through solids, which is a normal effect at the quantum level.