Cooling is an important and tricky part of modern computing – you don’t want those ever-more-functional processors overheating, but you also don’t want the cooling process to suck up too much energy. As it turns out, the wonder substance graphene may come in handy in this regard.
An international research project, headed up by Sweden’s Chalmers University, has found that a layer of the atom-thick material can be applied to hot spots within electronics in order to cool them down. And there’s enough of a cooling effect to make a big impact.
Bear in mind that a 10 degree Celsius increase in working temperature can halve the working life of electronic equipment. According to Chalmers professor Johan Liu, who is in charge of the project:
“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.”
The implications could be major for data centers, where cooling can account for half the energy needed to run them. The findings may also be good news for embedded electronics – such as those in cars – where efficient cooling is tricky to implement.
“This discovery opens the door to increased functionality and continues to push the boundaries when it comes to miniaturising electronics,” Liu said.
It’s great to see practical uses for graphene emerge. That’s a big problem for the nascent graphene industry – the substance has tons of theoretical advantages, as no other material is stronger or thinner or a better thermal or electrical conductor, but those starting to make the stuff are frustrated at the lack of a clear killer app. Graphene has to make significantly more economic sense than rival substances in order to really take off and make its production worthwhile.
Better energy efficiency and longer equipment lifespan are just the sort of benefits that graphene needs to boast; benefits that can lead to significant cost savings. If these advantages can be transposed from the lab to the factory, then the wonder substance may finally pick up the momentum it needs.