The fundamental switching energy limitations for waveguide coupled graphene-on-graphene optical modulators are described. The minimum energy is calculated under the constraints of fixed insertion loss and extinction ratio. Analytical relations for the switching energy both for realistic structures and in the quantum capacitance limit are derived and compared with numerical simulations. The results show that sub-femtojoule per bit switching energies and peak-to-peak voltages less than 0.1 V are achievable in graphene-on-graphene optical modulators using the constraint of 3 dB extinction ratio and 3 dB insertion loss. The quantum-capacitance limited switching energy for a single TE-mode modulator geometry is found to be < 0.5 fJ/bit at λ = 1.55 μ m, and the dependences of the minimum energy on the waveguide geometry, wavelength, and graphene location are investigated. The low switching energy is a result of the very strong optical absorption in graphene, and the extremely-small operating voltages needed as the device approaches the quantum capacitance regime.
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