Breakthrough Thermal Material System May Enable Faster Computing

Prototype substrate for high-speed electronics conducts heat better than copper that could lead to faster laptops, more advanced radar systems and better aviation and naval electronic control systems all potential benefits of new technology.

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Scientists in GE’s Global Research Center (www.ge.com/research) in Niskayuna, N.Y. have demonstrated an advanced thermal material system that could pave the way to faster computing and higher performing electronic systems. Leveraging technologies developed under GE’s Nanotechnology Advanced Technology Program, they have fabricated a prototype substrate that can cool electronic devices such as laptop computers twice as well as copper.

“As electronics become more advanced, we are approaching the point where conventional materials like copper can’t take the heat. For computing to go faster and electronics systems to become more capable, better cooling solutions such as GE’s prototype substrate will be required to allow this to happen,” states the release from GE.

Since the dawn of the electronics age, copper has been a preferred material to cool electronics because of its favorable heat conducting properties. But as electronic systems become more advanced, they are generating more and more heat. Too much heat can limit the overall performance of these systems, impacting computing speed and processing power. New breakthrough materials will be needed to enable more advanced systems and applications.

The development of GE’s prototype substrate, which utilizes phase-change-based heat transfer, is part of a four-year, $6 million program funded by the Defense Advanced Research Program Agency (DARPA, Contract # No. N66001-08-C-2008). As the leading organization of the program, GE Global Research has been collaborating with GE Intelligent Platforms, the Air Force Research Laboratory, and University of Cincinnati on the project.

Dr. Tao Deng, a senior scientist at GE Global Research and the project leader, said, “As electronics become more advanced, we are approaching the point where conventional materials like copper can’t take the heat. For computing to go faster and electronics systems to become more capable, better cooling solutions such as GE’s prototype substrate will be required to allow this to happen.”

Deng added, “In demonstrations, GE’s prototype substrate has functioned effectively in a variety of electronics application environments. We also subjected it to harsh conditions during testing and found it could successfully operate in extremely high gravity applications.”

Deng noted that GE’s prototype operated in conditions experiencing more than 10 times the normal force of gravity. By comparison, this gravity force is more than twice the maximum force experienced on the world’s fastest roller coasters.

GE’s phase-change based prototype substrate can be applied to computer chips and a variety of different electronic components. It acts as a cooling mechanism that spreads or dissipates the heat generated in electronic systems to keep components cool

During testing at the Air Force Research laboratories, GE’s research team successfully demonstrated the prototype substrate that was measured to have at least twice the thermal conductivity as copper at only one–fourth of its weight.

With high thermal conductivity, low weight, and high “G” acceleration performance, this substrate could work well in a variety of different systems, ranging from laptop computers to larger scale, more sophisticated computing systems that run the avionics and electronic control systems onboard jetliners and other aircraft.

In collaboration with various agencies from the US government, GE Global Research has been developing several advanced thermal technologies. Besides the DARPA effort, Dr. Deng is also leading a team, supported by Air Force Research Laboratory, to develop advanced thermal solutions for high-speed flight. These efforts will build a total thermal solution platform to serve multiple GE businesses, including GE Aviation, GE Energy, and GE Intelligent Platforms.  

Global Research Center (www.ge.com/research)

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