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Researchers Build First Molybdenite Microchip

Unknown Lamer posted more than 2 years ago | from the long-live-silicon dept.

Hardware 67

An anonymous reader writes "A Swiss team may have found an alternative to silicon microchips which could result in smaller, more flexible and less energy hungry processors. The Swiss team's chip does not use silicon, but molybdenite (MoS2) a dark-colored, naturally occurring mineral that is able to be used in much thinner layers (paywall)."

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So soon. (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 2 years ago | (#38290528)

The iPhone 10.
No glass no hard plastic. Built in a classy silicone (you know the rubbery stuff) case. That will not break when you drop it. And new sensors that detect bending for more new apps....

On the other hand, I don't think I want to see these apps.

Re:So soon. (2)

MisterMidi (1119653) | more than 2 years ago | (#38290628)

You mean like Nokia does [youtube.com] ?

Re:So soon. (4, Funny)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 2 years ago | (#38290676)

No no. This is an Apple product. It is better, and innovative.

Re:So soon. (2)

rwise2112 (648849) | more than 2 years ago | (#38292466)

But also come several years later, and still be the first!

Re:So soon. (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | more than 2 years ago | (#38304264)

[drum roll]
"Get out! We don't serve superluminal particles in here!" said the bar man.
A neutrino walks into a bar.
[cymbal crash]

That would be an Apple-flavoured neutrino then, not an electron-, muon- or tau-flavoured neutrino?

Silicone? (1)

Pope (17780) | more than 2 years ago | (#38294714)

Is there a chance the case could bend?

Re:Silicone? (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 2 years ago | (#38295042)

Not on your life, my Slashdot friend!

Re:Silicone? (1)

tragedy (27079) | more than 2 years ago | (#38298732)

The tab came off my pudding can!

My First Pony! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38290616)

Bronies report in.

But (3, Interesting)

bhcompy (1877290) | more than 2 years ago | (#38290626)

But is it as common and cheap as silicon?

Re:But (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38290646)

High-purity silicon wafers for microchip manufacturing aren't cheap.

Re:But (1)

bhcompy (1877290) | more than 2 years ago | (#38290730)

They'd be even less cheap if silicon wasn't so common

Re:But (1)

fnj (64210) | more than 2 years ago | (#38291582)

Actually the processing costs so far outweigh the materials cost that it is not possible to say that, unequivocally.

Re:But (4, Insightful)

doconnor (134648) | more than 2 years ago | (#38290774)

I don't think the cost of the raw material is significant compared to the cost to design and manufacture computer chips.

Re:But (4, Informative)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 2 years ago | (#38290800)

Wikipedia says Molybdenum is the 54th most abundant element on Earth. This is less abundant than silicon, but nowhere near as rare as other commonly used elements in semiconductors; Indium is far more rare.

Re:But (3, Informative)

Sique (173459) | more than 2 years ago | (#38291450)

But not as common as Silicon, which you can literally shovel in your backyard - the upper layer of the Earth crust is called Sial because of the two most abundant metals, Silicon and Aluminium. Iron comes in as a strong third.

There is a reason, why the three commerically most used metals are also the three most abundant. Molybdenum is often found in the compounds iron ore consists of, but it takes quite some energy to extract the Molybdenum from the iron ore.

Re:But (2)

EdZ (755139) | more than 2 years ago | (#38292856)

Comparing garden-variety sand to the highly purified, monocrystalline, carefully doped silicon used in chip fabs is like grabbing a lump of charcoal and claiming graphene is just lying around.

There is no silicon embargo possibility (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38293172)

And the grand-poster wasn't making that claim to begin with.

Re:But (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | more than 2 years ago | (#38304800)

On the other hand, quite pure (95%+) deposits of silicon dioxide, from which you can start your purification processing, is a lot more common on the surface of the Earth than diamond. Or reasonably pure graphite, for that matter.

Re:But (4, Informative)

MagusSlurpy (592575) | more than 2 years ago | (#38293258)

It takes less energy to get moly out of ferrous ore than it does to reduce silicon oxide to silicon. It's also a matter of availability - even though there's more silicon than molybdenum, molybdenum is often much more pure, and found in distinct deposits, and easy to mine, versus silicon being mixed in with all kinds of other crap and distributed wildly all throughout the crust. It's the same thing with rare earths - for example, indium isn't actually rare, it's just that it's EVERYWHERE in very small amounts, instead of convenient little deposits like gold, which is in the crust at about 1/500th the amount.

Re:But (1)

Kamiza Ikioi (893310) | more than 2 years ago | (#38292720)

But is it better than Adamantium?

Re:But (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38296280)

No way. You can't top an element discovered by Adam Ant!

Re:But (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | more than 2 years ago | (#38304424)

Is molybdenite better than adamantium? Very broad question.

But for certain, the first has a very much lower coefficient of fiction.

Re:But (2)

ChrisMaple (607946) | more than 2 years ago | (#38291652)

Molybdenum has a thermal coefficient of expansion quite close to silicon. Because of that and other reasons, it is frequently used as a thermal conductor between the silicon die and a copper or aluminum heat spreader. My point is, it's already used with semiconductor devices and using it in the semiconductor itself isn't going to greatly increase demand.

Re:But (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38291716)

Common and cheap isn't the whole equation, this has different properties as well - size, power consumption.

If it made identical chips to silicon, then your comment, and the worthless punks who upvoted you, would be worth something, but as it is, it doesn't. This site sickens me.

Silicon has a processing cost, and a post-processing quality cost. You are so dense, you see the corner of a fucking library card, and you think you know the book.

Re:But (1)

MagusSlurpy (592575) | more than 2 years ago | (#38293164)

As far as raw material goes, yes. And the purification methods are vastly different, but it seems likely that when scaled up they will be priced similarly to those of silicon. They're certainly less complicated.

Also, this is the same stuff [wikipedia.org] that lubricant companies like Valvoline put in high-mileage oil to provide friction protection when all your oil leaks out of your crumbly, busted-ass gaskets, as well as a billion other uses. It's really cool stuff.

Re:But (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | more than 2 years ago | (#38304360)

The cost of silicon chips is almost entirely in the processing, not in the raw materials. Clean sand with 95%+ SiO2 costs almost exactly the same as the fuel to move it from the mine to the first processing plant.

At that point, if you've got an industrial source of reasonably pure molybdenum (which there is - it's used in considerable tonnages in the steel industry), you tap into that. And start purifying it.

Fabrication (1)

P-niiice (1703362) | more than 2 years ago | (#38290654)

Also, will we have to retool the universe to produce these chips? I don't want to be too old to enjoy them!

Wait, what? (5, Insightful)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | more than 2 years ago | (#38290678)

On top of that, they also use numerous precious metals including gold, platinum and silicon.

Gold, sure; platinum, no problem; silicon, WTF?

Currently used as a strengthening agent in plastic, molybdenite is abundant in the natural word. Speaking to the BBC, Prof Andras Kis, the director of the Laboratory of Nanoscale Electronics and Structures (LANES) in Lausanne, said that his team’s research could transform the world of computing. ”[Currently] there is something like 19 million metric tonnes around,” Prof Kis said in an interview. ”You can just go on some websites on the internet and buy a 1cm by 1cm crystal for around $100 [£64].”

Abundant as compared to what? Silicon is the third most abundant element on earth and makes up 15% of its mass. Molybdenum is a rare earth element. Also, you can't use the current price of some element based on it not being used to make microprocessors and expect that the cost won't change if you increase the demand for it by many orders of magnitude. There might be good reasons for building microprocessors from molybdenite but replacing scarce silicon with abundant molybdenite is not one of them.

Re:Wait, what? (5, Informative)

ardor (673957) | more than 2 years ago | (#38290758)

I tend to agree, however, keep in mind:
Silicon is abundant. Highly pure silicon is not. You need the latter for microchips.

Re:Wait, what? (1)

steelfood (895457) | more than 2 years ago | (#38294334)

So it's a question of whether the purification process of silicon is more expensive than the mining and purification process of molybdenum. Unless the molybdenum doesn't need to be purified to the same degree.

Molybdenite probably won't replace silicon in all cases. Probably, it will be used in select components and chips, where speed and power usage are both equally important factors.

Re:Wait, what? (1)

aaron552 (1621603) | more than 2 years ago | (#38297510)

where speed and power usage are both equally important factors.

Like transistors?

Re:Wait, what? (3, Informative)

Gaygirlie (1657131) | more than 2 years ago | (#38290804)

Gold, sure; platinum, no problem; silicon, WTF?

Yes, the molybdenite is used as the primary material in crafting the transistors themselves, silicon is used for the packaging and insulation.

Abundant as compared to what? Silicon is the third most abundant element on earth and makes up 15% of its mass. Molybdenum is a rare earth element. Also, you can't use the current price of some element based on it not being used to make microprocessors and expect that the cost won't change if you increase the demand for it by many orders of magnitude.

There might be good reasons for building microprocessors from molybdenite but replacing scarce silicon with abundant molybdenite is not one of them.

While it's true that there is a lot of silicon on Earth, it however cannot just be mined and used directly. The silicon must be purified to a very high degree before it can be used in microchips and that is costly and consumes a lot of silicon.

Re:Wait, what? (1)

idontusenumbers (1367883) | more than 2 years ago | (#38291352)

The WTF on silicon was because silicon was listed as a precious metal despite it being abundant.

Re:Wait, what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38292286)

Abundant and not a metal !

Re:Wait, what? (3, Informative)

compro01 (777531) | more than 2 years ago | (#38292302)

Well, silicon is a metaloid, and by price, ultra-high-purity silicon is certainly precious.

A 300mm IC-grade wafer costs about $150. Weights about 1.6 grams.

That's about $93,000/kilo. Gold is about $55,000/kilo.

Re:Wait, what? (1)

compro01 (777531) | more than 2 years ago | (#38293562)

Dammit, screwed up my numbers. I multiplied by 2 rather than squaring.

The wafers should weigh about 120 grams and that comes to about $1200/kilo, though that's still a bit more expensive than silver.

Re:Wait, what? (2)

Algae_94 (2017070) | more than 2 years ago | (#38294308)

That price drops dramatically if you drop the wafer and break it.

Re:Wait, what? (1)

Algae_94 (2017070) | more than 2 years ago | (#38294340)

Although you did mention 300mm wafers. I don't think there are many (if any) fabs that have those handled by hand so breakage is not a big issue compared to yield loss from defects on the wafer.

Re:Wait, what? (1)

tragedy (27079) | more than 2 years ago | (#38298806)

That's a very good point. A 300mm IC-grade wafer isn't a measured amount of precious material, it's more like an expensive product. If it's broken, or simply flawed to begin with, most of the value is gone and it's back to being highly refined silicon to be melted and formed into a crystal and cut again. A more realistic way to look at the value of the silicon is how much they pay for the refined material they make the big crystals out of.

Re:Wait, what? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38291094)

Molybdenum is not a rare earth element (lanthanoid), it's a transition metal.
And rare earth elements are not neccessarily rare.

Re:Wait, what? (-1, Offtopic)

ixidor (996844) | more than 2 years ago | (#38291678)

i think he ment "rare earth element" in the common everyday sense, not the smug chemist sense. you know like how DeBeers wants us to think of diamonds ...

Re:Wait, what? (2)

vikingpower (768921) | more than 2 years ago | (#38291966)

Molybden(i)um most frigging certainly is NOT a "rare earth element". It belongs to the iron group, along with e.g. Vanadium, Chrome, Nickel and, well, yes, Iron. Molybden(i)um occurs in extractable concentrations on almost all locations where iron ore is abundant.

Re:Wait, what? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#38294784)

Molybdenum is a rare earth element.

Not in any sense of the phrase. It's not rare nor a rare earth element [wikipedia.org] .

There might be good reasons for building microprocessors from molybdenite but replacing scarce silicon with abundant molybdenite is not one of them.

The real question along these lines is how much energy does it take to make ICs from each material. And frankly, ICs are generally high enough value that there's not much point in considering material or energy input costs.

Researchers build first 10 GB mouse driver (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38290892)

No matter how hard the real scientists work, it won't take long for the software retards to blame the hardware for being too slow...

MOS-COS-MOS (1)

regular_guy (1979018) | more than 2 years ago | (#38290922)

Could this then be considered a MoS-COS-MOS?

And a lubercant too. We can use it in mice :) (1)

AbrasiveCat (999190) | more than 2 years ago | (#38291038)

The properties also include being a good high temperature lubricant, so the gamers who are pushing their mice to the limit would like this in those mice. Maybe a bit messy. I wonder if the MoS2 flakes and would be hard to clean up.

Yhh (0)

domstroi (2505744) | more than 2 years ago | (#38291204)

Yhh.. new year in germany [seaclub.com.ua] - very nice

Molybdenite occurs with radioactive Rhenium-187 (2)

G3ckoG33k (647276) | more than 2 years ago | (#38291232)

Molybdenite occurs together with Rhenium-187 which is radioactive. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molybdenite [wikipedia.org]

Is that a serious issue here?

Re:Molybdenite occurs with radioactive Rhenium-187 (2)

NEDHead (1651195) | more than 2 years ago | (#38291390)

Perhaps it can become a self powered chip?

Re:Molybdenite occurs with radioactive Rhenium-187 (1)

kiehlster (844523) | more than 2 years ago | (#38291522)

I venture they use the radioactivity as a clock chip. Sounds like it has a pretty good half-life.

Re:Molybdenite occurs with radioactive Rhenium-187 (1)

NEDHead (1651195) | more than 2 years ago | (#38292086)

Perhaps it can also be adapted for an on board random number generator

Re:Molybdenite occurs with radioactive Rhenium-187 (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | more than 2 years ago | (#38291630)

No, we'll just let 3rd world peasants mine it for us.

Re:Molybdenite occurs with radioactive Rhenium-187 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38295434)

You're making us sound heartless, but we'll be trading cigarettes for their work

What is the function of these microchip? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38291580)

What is the function of these microchip? Can they be the processor of usb speaker [hkcolordigital.com] ?

More info (5, Interesting)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 2 years ago | (#38291760)

Moly disulfide is mostly known as a lubricant.

Interesting, but I wouldn't sell my stocks in silicon electronics yet. Silicon is way down the learning curve. I wouldn't bet a new semiconductor against it.

Some of what the article says is a little dubious, like the fact that silicon "The surface likes to oxidise - it likes to bind with oxygen... and that makes its electrical properties degrade when you want to make a very thin film." Yes, it forms oxide easily. No, that doesn't "degrade" the electrical properties-- in fact, this is exactly why silicon is so incredibly useful in electronics. Oxide, and the fact that silicon oxide passivates the surface to prevent electron-hole recombination at the dangling bonds, is what makes silicon electronics possible. I note that the moly disulfide transistors use hafnium oxide for a gate. That's a high dielectric constant material that is indeed also used in silicon, but the silicon oxide is still the critical interface.

By the way, I think there's slightly better info from eetimes http://www.eetimes.com/electronics-news/4212757/New-material-for-semis-said-to-beat-silicon [eetimes.com] or physicsworld http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/45056 [physicsworld.com]

Does it work for tits too??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38294036)

I for one would not allow any chip of mine to use a material that wouldn't fit in tit, too.. Slashdotters beware, having silicon in your machines is that closest you can get to be close to something that belongs someway or another to a breast.

Molybdenum element 42.. (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38295588)

What I can't believe no one has pointed out yet is that one of the primary elements in Molybdenite is Molybdenum, which is the 42nd element in the periodic table. 42 = The answer to the ultimate question of life the universe and everything. Therefore this has to be the best answer to any microchip issues QED

Re:Molybdenum element 42.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38311432)

even better, its the 42nd most abundant element in the universe.

Not reported on ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38296126)

... were the effects of the large holes on the conductivity of the molybdenite substrate nor the fact that it is delicious when melted over toast ...

IN case anyone has trouble... (1)

HaeMaker (221642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38296560)

It's Moe-lib-den-ite.

Re:IN case anyone has trouble... (1)

Ultracrepidarian (576183) | more than 2 years ago | (#38300222)

This may prove to be a problem for some conservatives.

PVs? (1)

surd1618 (1878068) | more than 2 years ago | (#38299078)

I am wondering, this stuff is really far away for microchips, but what about PVs? I am trying to find info on how they got the conductivity to be better, and if it is being used for junctions in photovoltaics.

I am well aware that molybdenum is being used for backing contacts. Actually that is part of why I am posting this, because it is making searching more complicated.

In the not too distant future... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38299446)

Crow T. Robot is pleased.

Oh great (1)

TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) | more than 2 years ago | (#38303110)

Here comes the parade of the Moly vs Silicon fanboys. Personally I am a graphene fanboy.

Re:Oh great (1)

vandamme (1893204) | more than 2 years ago | (#38345624)

What about Gallium arsenide? Silicon carbide? Indium phosphide? Gallium nitride? All were going to replace silicon.

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