ExtremeTech reports about a new advance that will enable engineers to use more erbium in optical fiber, photonic switches, and solar power cells. Previously the use of erbium was limited as using too much would degrade quality, but a new compound will solve the problem and may lead to higher performance in optical fiber and photonic switches, as well as higher efficiency for solar cells.
Basically, without erbium chloride silicate, an optical fiber had to be physically very long to contain enough erbium to amplify a signal. This isn’t a problem in a large router, but it makes optical interconnects inside your tablet or laptop all but impossible. This new erbium crystal means that chip-sized, constructed-with-standard-fabrication-techniques silicon chips that combine standard transistor logic with optical switching is possible. If that’s too hard to visualize, think of it like this: This erbium compound might one day bring a 20, 40, 100Gbps network socket to the back of your PC.
It doesn’t stop there, though: When used in silicon photovoltaic cells, erbium can capture photons that aren’t readily absorbed by silicon, and then convert them into a form that can then be used.