Researchers at Standford University’s Electrical Engineering school created a flexible phase-change memory made of a superlattice material that becomes 100 times more energy-efficient when put onto a flexible and bendable substrate. This application has the potential to create a more energy-efficient data storage.

Companies like Intel have commercialized phase-change memory, but tech companies continue to look for energy efficiency. The researchers said their work shows the pathway for bringing unprecedented energy efficiency for emerging applications for flexible electronics such as foldable screens on smartphones and flexible processors.

Asir Intisar Khan, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in Electrical Engineering at Stanford University, says that as consumer electronics such as computers, mobile phones and digital cameras get smaller, they require more and faster storage. “Our higher density energy-efficient and faster memory technology could be a winner in these consumer electronics.”

“Any improvement in the energy efficiency of consumer electronics is a big relief for batteries because batteries can be made smaller or even removed completely [..],” said Khan. “Also, this type of memory technology can store the data for more than ten years.”

Khan says, for example, if a person is using a computer with their memory technology, they could turn it off and back on and pick up right where they left off, or they could do that in real-time or ten years later.

“In this example, these computers would not lose critical data in a system crash or when the power went out unexpectedly,” said Khan. “So overall, our memory technology could also significantly increase battery life for portable devices. At the same time, these results could open a completely new realm for integrating low-power data storage with flexible electronics.”

Khan adds that other advantages of the team’s discovery of energy-efficient flexible memory include thinness, conformability and low manufacturing costs compared to the existing PCM technologies on the conventional silicon substrate.

“From stick-on displays and cheap, flexible plastic sensors, they will need some way of storing data for the long-term that can be built on plastic where our unique energy-efficient flexible memory is a breakthrough,” said Khan. “These could further enable electronic skin, smart Internet of Things (IoT) sensors for food or drug monitoring like smart tags, and even flexible computer processors, which could revolutionize global supply chains and personalized healthcare.