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Nanotechnology Can Reduce Power Consumption in Electronic Displays

Nanotechnology might change the physical form of laptops, cell phones, and TV displays. You may love those high-definition big-screen TVs, but they consume lots of power; even the display screen on your laptop consumes a sizable portion of your laptop’s battery power.

Although integrated circuit manufacturers have worked to reduce the power consumed by microprocessors, the next big opportunity to reduce power usage is the display screen. Nanotechnology may be able to reduce the power consumed in both high-definition big-screen TVs and computer displays in a couple of ways.

Use carbon nanotube emissions

Old-style bulky TVs and computer screens used a cathode ray tube that scanned a beam of electrons across the TV screen and caused fluorescent dots on the screen to light up, displaying an image.

Display screens using carbon nanotubes also light up fluorescent dots with not one source of electrons but a set of carbon nanotubes for each pixel. (Each pixel has a green, a red, and a blue fluorescent dot. For each of those dots, a nanotube emits electrons that combine to produce the specific color for that pixel.)

When a pixel must be lit up to form a picture, the nanotubes for that pixel emit electrons. This method, called nanotube emissive display, provides high-definition images using less power. Making nanotube emissive displays, however, is challenging.

For example, these displays require a high-quality vacuum in the gap between the tip of the nanotubes and the fluorescent dots that will last for the lifetime of the display. The vacuum lets electrons travel between the tips of the carbon nanotubes and the fluorescent dots. In addition to the need for a high-quality vacuum, these nanotubes are expensive.

At this point, various companies have attempted to develop displays using nanotube emissive technology but have dropped the projects or sold their technology to other companies.

Take advantage of quantum dots

To excite the fluorescent dots used in many displays, you need to shoot electrons at pixels. Quantum dot displays, on the other hand, use an electric field to excite electrons and generate light. You control the light generated in each pixel by using electrodes to apply a voltage.

Quantum dot displays should be simpler to make as well as use less power. However, manufacturers must overcome one issue. To make color displays using three different colors, you need three different diameter quantum dots. You essentially have to put three different sizes of quantum dots in each pixel, which is a difficult technique to master.

Research published recently shows a method created by one company to get around this issue, but only time will tell if this technique will become practical.

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