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Digital PFC tech boosts energy efficiency in power supplies

Posted: 21 Nov 2007     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:green electronics  digital PFC  global warming 

Green is in, and unlike diet fads, it looks like it's here to stay. Driven primarily by worldwide concern for sustainable resource use, zero-waste goals and global warming issues, the age of green technology has dawned, and is now rapidly gathering steam for a full-blown outbreak in the electronics sector.

As a major consumer of energy, electronic devices have become the obvious target for greening. The ordinary desktop PC for instance, one of the most commonly used equipment in the home and the office, is a known power hog that uses only half the actual power it draws. The other half is wasted as heat, which translates to extra energy costs, not just for powering the PC but from the need for air conditioning and other cooling systems as well. This, in turn, translates to increased demand for power generation, which results in additional greenhouse gas emissions.

Acknowledging this knotty scenario, a number of IT companies have taken up the challenge to increase energy efficiency in computers. And joining these industry players who've seen the "green" light is Marvell Semiconductor Inc., which recently signed up with Climate Savers Computing Initiative, a drive by IT firms including Google Inc. and Intel Corp. to deploy and use technologies that improve energy efficiency in computing applications.

Green innovation
Scoring its initial win in the green arena, Marvell earlier this month announced a digital PFC technology for power supplies, which the company claims could raise power efficiencies in computing applications, such that it could actually cut in half power generation.

"In the computing market alone, there are 1000 crore energy-using devices around the world, and none of these use PFCs," Hubie Notohamiprodjo, general manager for industrial control and power management at Marvell, told EE Times-Asia. "Our PFC technology cuts the demand for power plants by half, and even up to 3x in some applications. Assuming that all the 1000 crore devices use our new technology, we can save a lot on cost as well as in terms of gas emissions."

According to Marvell, the new technology combines its DSP and power management know-how to boost energy efficiency in power supplies. By aligning the current and voltage coming from the electrical outlet, the technology optimises energy use by PCs and other electronic devices that plug to the wall.

PFC has been around for some time, but only as an analogue technology, explained Notohamiprodjo. Adoption has been sluggish, partly because it's not mandatory for companies to include PFC in their designs. Then there is the lack of incentive for companies to adopt the technology because of the additional cost and complexity it entails.

Notohamiprodjo said Marvell's DSP-based PFC technology has overcome the limitations of analogue PFC in that it integrates a lot more functionality on a single chip, displacing around 20 components that would've been required in an analogue system. This makes computer power supplies smaller, lighter, more reliable and less costly and complex to make. Given these benefits, OEMs no longer have the excuse not to integrate the technology into their designs, Notohamiprodjo said. And Marvell is optimistic that once companies, particularly those in the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, become aware of the benefits of digital PFC, they would push for a mandated standardisation requiring all PCs to use this technology.

Asian focus
Notohamiprodjo particularly believes Asia has a major role to play in mandating the use of PFC to promote energy efficiency. "It's a lot easier to mandate certain things in Asia because the political structure is different," he said. The only hurdle is in making people aware of the benefits of the technology, which Marvell is bent on addressing. "It is our duty to educate people in Asia that this is good for the environment." Notably, a number of Asia OEMs who are in the Climate Savers Computing Initiative are already aware of environment concerns, and they have responded positively to Marvell's new technology. "We are actually engaging with almost all of them right now," Notohamiprodjo said.

Marvell has designed its new PFC technology to perfectly suit the low-cost, high-volume manufacturing in Asia. In fact, hitting the right price point relative to features was the biggest challenge in developing this technology, Notohamiprodjo revealed. Technically, the company is able to add more features, he said, but the product also had to be inexpensive enough for the industry to actually take notice.

"PFC is already available for years but it's all in analogue, so it gave the wrong impression that PFC is difficult and expensive. I want to change that image," Notohamiprodjo said, explaining how Marvell had decided on the price point and feature set combination.

Walking the talk
Underscoring its commitment to the environment, Marvell has invested a premium to redesign its campus to be more power-efficient. It also plans to incorporate its own technology in future redesigns, Notohamiprodjo bared.

"It's a no-brainer to be green. It's a no-brainer to reduce demand for power generation just by incorporating this technology, and it doesn't cost much money," Notohamiprodjo said. "Marvell is a high technology provider, and our CEO is very committed. If we know a way to save the environment in a very simple way, we have to do it, no questions asked. We want to make a difference. This is just a simple thing to do, but in the end it will benefit everybody in the world."

- Christine Telesforo
EE Times-Asia

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