At the moment, electrical signals transfer information between computer chips using copper wires–a process that sucks up a lot of energy. But now researchers from IBM have developed a process that scraps the copper wires completely and instead uses pulses of light to communicate. The “nanophotonic avalanche photodetector” uses a whopping 20 times less energy than previous devices.

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Instead of transferring information over copper wires, the light pulses are transmitted via silicon circuits–a process that can transmit data at up to 40G bits per second with a 1.5 volt power supply, or the equivalent of a AA battery.

Nanophotonic avalanche photodetectors aren’t new, but IBM claims that its version is the fastest. The company explains, “Analogous to a snow avalanche on a steep mountain slope, an incoming light pulse initially frees just a few charge carriers which in turn free others until the original signal is amplified many times. Conventional avalanche photodetectors are not able to detect fast optical signals because the avalanche builds slowly.

It will be awhile before we see IBM’s technology in electronic devices–probably 5 years for high-end servers and 10 years for video game systems and cell phones. But when the chips are finally released,  they have the potential to drastically cut down on the energy use of the gadgets we use every day.