Air travel contributes a significant percentage of the world’s carbon output. The industry’s activities resulted in 2.1% of greenhouse gas emissions in 2021, according to the World Resources Institute.

However, the smartphones ubiquitous in pockets worldwide, along with billions of other electronic devices, are on par with or surpassing jet fuel-burning air travel when it comes to contributing to climate change. Researchers at the U.K.’s Lancaster University estimate that computing technology contributes between 2.1% and 3.9% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

As energy-hungry artificial intelligence systems increase in prominence and humanity becomes more dependent on technology, the need for sustainable computing has become more urgent than ever. Vidya Chhabria, an assistant professor of electrical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, is working to meet that need with her project that measures the lifetime carbon footprint of very large-scale integration, or VLSI, computing systems and design techniques that can make the field more sustainable.

VLSI systems are electronic chips built using billions of smaller components consisting of wires and transistors, which regulate electricity flow and voltage. VLSI chips are used in electronic devices people use every day, including laptops, smartphones and cameras.

The high number of transistors provides a considerable amount of computing power in a device using VLSI systems. Emerging frontiers in VLSI include 3D and 2.5D systems using heterogeneous integration of chiplets, which refers to combining smaller chips together in one package to form a larger system stacked vertically or horizontally closer than traditional, or monolithic, chips, reducing the area taken up versus one larger chip and enabling the use of even more computing power.

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