Silicon/Air Battery for “Vanishing” Electronic Systems | SRI International

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artist's conception of a decomposing electronic component

Silicon/Air Battery for “Vanishing” Electronic Systems

To meet an important military need, SRI is designing a sensor system that disappears on command.

Complex electronics are deployed routinely throughout the U.S. military for applications such as distributed remote sensing and communications. Tracking and recovering every device as needed is nearly impossible, creating what is known as the “leave-behind” problem. Devices that accumulate in the environment pose security risks by their potential unauthorized use and can compromise intellectual property.

To address this issue, the Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) program of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) seeks development of microsystems that can decompose safely and quickly into the environment. The devices should physically “vanish” on command, allowing electronic devices to be left behind safely all around the world. The objective is to have routinely deployed electronics that perform like their commercial-off-the-shelf counterparts, but that can be triggered remotely to disappear in a controlled way.

SRI is participating in the VAPR program by designing and building the Stressed Pillar-Engineered CMOS Technology Readied for Evanescence (SPECTRE) vanishing silicon/air battery. The battery will include a power supply that, when triggered, renders the device unobservable to the human eye. The chip destruction (or vanishing) mode will be based on a micro-fracturing/electrochemical dissolution process triggered electrochemically and thermally after receipt of a “kill” trigger delivered remotely by an RF communications link.

SRI’s sensor system approach requires only complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) materials, processes, and equipment installed in modern foundries. The silicon/air battery will be designed to have high specific energy, high pulse power for communications, and long shelf life, and will offer a platform for integrated circuit and sensor integration. SRI will also design, synthesize, and test packaging that depolymerizes on demand.

If the project is successful, SRI’s fully transient silicon/air batteries could power sensor payloads for 100 hours and vanish in 30 seconds when triggered. The technology could be transitioned to a semiconductor foundry to yield a deployable, realistic, and scalable power supply for end users.

Potential uses of the silicon/air batteries include environmental monitoring and chem-bio sensing.

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