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Graphene Computer Technology

Graphene's Cooling Properties

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted July 8, 2013

One of the most persistent problem-spots in the history of computing (and electronic technologies in general) is that of cooling. It’s an abstracted area of operation—we end-users don’t necessarily encounter it all the time—but it’s one of the most vital behind-the-scenes operations, and without it our iPhones and Macbook Airs would have very short lifespans.

graphene on electronics hotspots
Source: Science Daily

But cooling must be efficient. Hardcore “pro” gamers may use liquid-nitrogen cooling systems and other exotic cooling mechanisms, but if you want cooling to be done on a massive scale—in cellphones, computers, and innumerable other technologies—then you can’t afford to go big. It’s a tricky balance between maximum cooling impact and minimal energy demands to have said impact.

Now, a research team headed by Chalmers University of Sweden has found that graphene—the wonder material that’s turning heads everywhere—could be applied to hot-spots individually in order to cool them down.

From GigaOm, quoting Professor Johan Liu, project-leader:

“The normal working temperature in the hotspots we have cooled with a graphene layer has ranged from 55 to 115 degrees Celsius. We have been able to reduce this by up to 13 degrees, which not only improves energy efficiency, it also extends the working life of the electronics.”

A reduction of 10 degrees Celsius is major news when you consider that an increase in working temperature by 10 degrees Celsius effectively reduces an electronic gadget’s lifespan by half. We’re talking about improvements in efficiencies to the point where half the current energy would need to be spent in order to achieve the same cooling levels. Or you can spend energy on current levels to achieve even greater cooling levels.

Graphene has made a big splash in the world of science and industry. It’s absurdly strong, thin, and a terrific thermal and electrical conductor. Researchers have also discovered magnetic and spin properties with exciting theoretical implications for transistor and electronic chip design.

But what we really need is a more directly-applicable feature—something like this cooling thing. It’s what you might call the “killer app.” Better energy efficiencies, longer lifespans, better savings—those are the kinds of things venture capitalists lust after. That’s why this is great news for the graphene sector.

As XBit Labs points out, modern electronic equipment generates a lot of heat. And this heat needs to be dissipated efficiently in order to keep everything as cool as possible. The Chalmers researchers focused on selected hot-spots where the electronics ran particularly hot. These spots could be so tiny they're on the micro or nano scale.

When you consider that an ordinary LED device could achieve thermal intensities comparable to that of the sun—numbers would be around 600W/sq. cm.—it becomes clear that highly efficient cooling systems are among the most desirable of technological Holy Grails.

Science Daily’s quote from Professor Liu sums it up accurately:

"This discovery opens the door to increased functionality and continues to push the boundaries when it comes to miniaturising electronics.”

Exploiting Graphene

The big question now will likely focus on viable approaches toward incorporating graphene in heat-generating electronic equipment—particularly processors and so on. According to the Chalmers research, a thin layer of graphene over the hot-spots was all that was required to bring down heat generation levels by about 25 percent.

Right now, graphene is largely still being probed and tested. Ever since it exploded onto the world’s scientific research stage some years ago, graphene has held many surprises—its conductivity and variety of other properties have proven to be unusually good.

Now it's sort of at a transitional stage, where researchers have established several highly attractive properties of the material but have not yet developed an elevator-pitch approach. From flexible screens to highly efficient cooling systems, from next-generation transistors to super-conducting technologies, it’s clear that graphene will be the material of the future. What’s needed right now is some kind of development that can be pitched to investors and begin the momentum that’s needed for graphene to enter the industrial phase.

Cooling tech is ubiquitous and always in demand, so this could very well become graphene’s big moment. Be on the lookout for computing or other tech firms to take this development and run with it, bringing out the first of many ultra-efficient cooling technologies of the future.

 

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