Nebraska, April 20: We often notice that our laptops, computers get heated! The more the heat- these electronic stuff doesn’t work properly. Scientists from University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Engineering have developed the concept of ‘thermal computers’ i.e the thermal diode- a computer component that runs on heat instead of electricity. This could be the first step towards making heat-resistant computers that can function in extremely hot places, like on Venus or deep inside the Earth, without breaking a sweat.
Sidy Ndao, an assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering, said the development of a nano- thermal-mechanical device, or thermal diode, came after flipping around the question of how to better cool computers. “If you think about it, whatever you do with electricity you should (also) be able to do with heat because they are similar in many ways,” Ndao said. “In principle, they are both energy carriers. If you could control heat, you could use it to do computing and avoid the problem of overheating,” he said.
How does it works?
The team's thermal diode is made up of pairs of surfaces, where one is fixed and the other can be moved towards or away from its stationary partner. That movement is handled automatically by the system to maximize the transfer of heat: when the moving surface is hotter than the still one, it will actuate inwards, and increase the rate that heat moves to the cooler surface. When performed at temperatures between 215° and 494° F (102° and 257° C), the thermal diode hit a peak heat transfer rate of about 11 percent, but the team reported that the device was able to function at temperatures as high as 620° F (327° C).
The device working in temperatures that approached 630 degrees Fahrenheit. Ndao said he expects the device could eventually work in heat as extreme as 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit, which could have major implications for many industries.
"We are basically creating a thermal computer," says Ndao. "It could be used in space exploration, for exploring the core of the Earth, for oil drilling, (for) many applications. It could allow us to do calculations and process data in real time in places where we haven't been able to do so before."
Even when they're not running in the molten core of the planet, electronics can overheat and damage themselves if they aren't properly cooled by fans or water circulation systems. As heftier tasks are handed off to computers, more elaborate cooling tactics are needed, and to that end Lockheed Martin has tinkered with embedding microscopic water droplets inside chips, IBM developed the counter-intuitive technique of cooling with warm water, and Microsoft has turned to the power of the ocean itself to cool a large data center.
Using components like thermal diodes, the researchers say some of that wasted heat could instead be fed back into the system as an alternative energy source, improving its energy efficiency.
"It is said now that nearly 60% of the energy produced for consumption in the United States is wasted in heat," says Ndao. "If you could harness this heat and use it for energy in these devices, you could obviously cut down on waste and the cost of energy."
The researchers are now working on improving their thermal diode's efficiency. But since diodes aren't the only component in electronics, a true thermal computer would need the rest of its system to be able to withstand those temperatures as well.
"If we can achieve high efficiency, show that we can do computations and run a logic system experimentally, then we can have a proof-of-concept," Mahmoud Elzouka, co-author of the study. "(That) is when we can think about the future." “Hopefully one day, it will be used to unlock the mysteries of outer space, explore and harvest our own planets deep-beneath-the-surface geology, and harness waste heat for more efficient energy utilization,” Ndao added.