The Dutch Research Council (NWO) recently granted around ten million euros to a large research project that will investigate new concepts for energy-efficient information technology. UT researcher Prof Dr Hans Hilgenkamp is the main applicant of the project, known as NL-ECO. Along with the NWO funding, an additional 2.5 million euros will be made available as co-financing by several participants in the consortium.
The digital revolution has benefited mankind enormously. The widespread use of digital devices and technologies, such as computers, internet and data centres, generally make our life more efficient and provide opportunities in areas of application such as medicine. These technologies are energy guzzlers, however. The volume of digital information we process and store and the associated energy costs are growing exponentially.
Testbed for new technologies
To rein in that huge growth in energy consumption, NL-ECO aims to develop new materials, technologies and scientific insights for energy-efficient information technology. “We really want to be a breeding ground and testbed for new technologies”, says Hilgenkamp. The consortium of 33 organisations will carry out fundamental research into the digital technologies of the future.
Brain as source of inspiration
By way of inspiration for those new technologies, one of the areas NL-ECO is looking at is the human brain: the most energy-efficient computer available. “The brain is still a lot better than the latest computers for many applications – pattern recognition, for example. Not only in terms of speed, but also when it comes to energy consumption”, Hilgenkamp explains. If we can learn something from that, maybe self-driving vehicles will be more efficient in the future.
Imitating the brain is not an end in itself, but exploring ‘neuromorphic’ concepts based on how the brain works is one of the possible routes that the consortium wants to take. The researchers are also going to look at other materials and insights to make information technology more sustainable. The aim is to develop a variety of scalable concepts in the next five years that industry can take up and develop further. The wide-ranging consortium comprises 33 organisations in the academic world, societal partners, local government and industry.
The research project is getting the funding of over ten million euros as part of the research programme ‘Research along Routes by Consortia’ of the Dutch National Research Agenda (NWA-ORC). The objective of the Dutch National Research Agenda is to make a positive and structural contribution to the global knowledge society of tomorrow, in which new knowledge flows easily from researcher to user and in which new questions from working practice and from society find their way into new research quickly and as a matter of course. NWA-ORC puts this into practice by facilitating interdisciplinary research and innovation that bring societal and scientific breakthroughs within reach.
About the programme manager
Prof Dr Hans Hilgenkamp is Professor of Applied Physics and Nanotechnology at the NanoElectronic Materials research cluster (Faculty of Science and Technology, TNW). He is also co-director of the BRAINS Center of the Research Institute for Nanotechnology MESA+ and is associated with the Digital Society Institute of the University of Twente.
University of Twente, Radboud University, University of Groningen, Eindhoven University of Technology, Delft University of Technology, Fontys University of Applied Sciences, Saxion University of Applied Sciences, AMOLF, ASTRON, TNO, ASML, IBM Zurich Research Lab, Toyota Motor Europe, Thales, IMEC Leuven, IMEC Eindhoven, Smart Photonics, LioniX International BV, PITC, VSPARTICLE, Surf, TSST, European Space Agency, Green IT Amsterdam, Municipality of Westerkwartier, Amsterdam Economic Board, HQ Graphene, Örebro University, Uppsala University, Jülich Research Center, Max-Planck Institute for Microstructure Physics, NLdigital, and Science LinX.