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POWER SYSTEMS Graphene-based pipes for cooling power electronics

Author / Editor: Luke James / Johanna Erbacher

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden claim that that they’ve found a way to effectively and efficiently cool down electronics and power systems by using graphene-based heat pipes, it has been announced.

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Swedish researchers from Chalmers University of Technology say that they’ve found a way to cool electronics and power systems using graphene-based heat pipes.
Swedish researchers from Chalmers University of Technology say that they’ve found a way to cool electronics and power systems using graphene-based heat pipes.
(Source: gemeinfrei / Pexels )

Today’s integrated circuits can reach power densities of 1000 watts per square meter (W m-2) or higher, meaning that efficient heat dissipation is essential for maintaining high levels of performance and extending the lifetime of electronics and power systems. One of the best ways to do this is through the use of heat pipes.

The use of heat pipes - currently made from materials like copper, aluminum, or their alloys - is a highly efficient way to enable heat dissipation. However, they’re starting to face challenges in power electronics applications due to their own relative high density and limited heat transmission capacity metrics.

Now, Swedish researchers from Chalmers University of Technology say that they’ve found a way to cool electronics and power systems using graphene-based heat pipes that don’t face such challenges.

The heat management challenge

As power systems grow larger and electronic devices become smaller and more powerful, the challenge of how to effectively manage heat is becoming very important and evermore pressing.

When electronic devices begin to overheat, performance can begin to drop increasing the risk of total failure. In other areas like large data centers, where huge amounts of energy is consumed to keep them cool, there’s also the environmental impact that is problematic;data centers must therefore be cooled down as effectively and efficiently as is possible.

That’s why today, a huge amount of research is going into developing more efficient cooling methods so that tomorrow’s electronics applications can perform better, last longer, and leave less of a mark on the planet. And this is where developments like the graphene-based heat pipes described in the Swedish researchers’ recent study come in.

A graphic showing the structure of the graphene-based heat pipe.
A graphic showing the structure of the graphene-based heat pipe.
(Source: Chalmers University of Technology.)

Graphene-based heat pipes

As was mentioned above, heat pipes used for cooling in current power systems and electronics applications are made from materials like aluminum, copper, and their alloys. While these metals are a great choice because of their mechanical strength and thermal conductivity, they’re very heavy and don’t lend themselves well to the development of portable and terrestrial electronics.

Significant efforts have been made to lighten up these heat pipes by using light metals, alloys, and carbon fiber with thin aluminum shells. And although these have been lighter, issues such as corrosion, low thermal conductivity, and thermal resistance have stopped them in their tracks.

Researchers at Chalmers - working in conjunction with colleagues from Fudan University, Shanghai University, China, SHT Smart High-Tech AB, Sweden, and Marche Polytechnic University, Italy - turned to the wonder material graphene as a potential solution for creating an effective and efficient lightweight heat pipe. Not only does graphene show good stability, its ultra-lightweight and demonstrates a much better in-plane thermal conductivity than both aluminum and copper.

The graphene-based pipes are built from three key components: container, wick structure, and working fluid. Those explored in this study demonstrated features that illustrate the potential for use in lightweight and large capacity cooling applications, potentially solving the problem of heat management in modern electronics applications.

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