Sandia National Laboratories, Livermore, Calif., has developed a new technology with the potential to dramatically alter the air-cooling landscape in computing and microelectronics.
The Sandia cooler, also known as the air-bearing heat exchanger, is a an air-cooling invention developed by Sandia researcher Jeff Koplow, who was recently selected by the National Academy of Engineering to take part in its 17th annual U.S. Frontiers of Engineering Symposium.
In a conventional CPU cooler, the heat transfer bottleneck is the boundary layer of dead air that clings to the cooling fins. With the Sandia cooler, heat is transferred across a narrow air gap from a stationary base to a rotating structure. The normally stagnant boundary layer of air enveloping the cooling fins is subjected to a powerful centrifugal pumping effect, which reduces the boundary layer's thickness so that it is 10 times thinner than normal. This reduction enables a dramatic improvement in cooling performance within a much smaller package.
Minimum Exchanger FoulingAdditionally, the high speed rotation of the heat exchanger fins minimizes the problem of heat exchanger fouling. The way the redesigned cooling fins slice through the air greatly improves aerodynamic efficiency, which translates to extremely quiet operation. The Sandia cooler’s benefits have been verified by lab researchers on a proof-of-concept prototype approximately sized to cool computer CPUs, according to the laboratory.
Koplow says the patent-pending technology will significantly reduce the energy needed to cool processor chips in data centers and large-scale computing environments. The yearly electricity bill paid by the information technology sector in the United States is approximately $7 billion and growing.
The cooler also offers benefits in other applications where thermal management and energy efficiency are important, particularly heating, ventilation and air-conditioning. Koplow said that if the air-bearing heat exchanger technology proves amenable to size-scaling, it has the potential to decrease overall U.S. electrical power consumption by more than seven percent.
Sandia lab officials now are seeking licensees in the electronics chip-cooling field to license and commercialize the unit .Sandia’s work on the cooler technology was funded initially through internal investments. Follow-on funding also is provided by the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
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