Two New Approaches to Thermal Management Problems

(June 14, 2016) Recent research is looking at two opposite physical effects to keep chips cool by possibly distributing process loads across multiple cores.

According to, the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) is conducting two kinds of research into thermal materials. Dr Alexandre Cuenat, a researcher in the National Physical Laboratory’s Thermoelectric and Electrothermal metrology group, explained: “We’re interested in how materials will change temperature when they interact with electric fields. We’re investigating two kinds of processes: electrocaloric, which is a very efficient process, but which only moves a relatively small amount of heat; and thermoelectric, which is less efficient, but which has a higher heat flux.”

“The electrocaloric effect is being researched at Penn State University in the US,” reported NewElectronics, “The university explains the effect: ‘Turn on an electric field and a standard electrocaloric material will eject heat to its surroundings. Do the same thing and a negative electrocaloric material will absorb heat’.”

Xiaoshi Qian, the primary investigator with the Penn State project, said, “The advantage of the electrocaloric material is its very high efficiency, compared with other solid state coolers, such as the thermoelectric cooler.” Qian also said this can be “attached to a chip in need of on demand cooling”.

Dr Cuenat is working on the thermoelectric cooler. “However,” reports NewElectronics, “rather than developing thermal management solutions themselves, Dr Cuenat is looking at the metrology aspects.

“The issue for electrocaloric and thermoelectric cooling solutions is that measuring heat flow is difficult; it’s not like measuring electrical power,” he said, “We’re looking to measure the change in temperature of a chip. […] People usually measure this temperature change directly, but we believe that’s the wrong approach; we’re looking to measure as precisely as possible how cool the chip is and its real temperature change.”

He went on to explain that they are working on 3D ICs because of their power dissipation. “Heat management is more challenging and we’re not only trying to find out how to detect hotspots within the devices, we’re also working on materials that can be used to cool the chips.”

To read more, click here.

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