Cooling Technologies Research Center  

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CTRC Microchannel Research imageAt the center of the sustained growth of the semiconductor industry since the early ‘70s lies the unique factor that has made this industry successful: “Decreases in device feature size have provided improved functionality at a reduced cost.”  Device features have decreased at the rate of about 70% every three years, and in recent years, acceleration to a 2-year cycle has been experienced.  The cost per function has simultaneously decreased at an average rate of about 25-30% per year per function (Source: International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors, 2000).

In a variety of applications such as power electronics, telecommunications, cellular base stations and mobile phones, automotive electronics, portable/wearable electronics, pervasive computing devices, electric vehicle batteries, power distribution systems in computers, large-scale servers, military electronics and avionics, transformers, and even food processing, there is a need to remove heat from compact spaces.  The space and performance constraints imposed call for sophisticated cooling techniques which are easy to implement in products.  In many applications, the absence of compact cooling techniques has challenged the very viability of the product.  Proper use of cooling technologies can also lead to important gains in efficiency and performance.

The growing trend towards miniaturization and increasing functionality of electronics has driven these industries towards more novel and high-performance cooling technologies.  Where once air cooling with heat sinks was the only accepted mode, even very traditional industries are now considering liquid cooling.  Similarly, where heat pipes were once a novelty, they are ubiquitous in their application today.  Against this rapidly developing background, research into advanced cooling technologies is vital.  Unfortunately, in many instances, the technology implementation has proceeded without a sound understanding of the characteristics, performance and optimization of these technologies.  This has led to an increasing realization of the value of exploring new techniques as “shelf technologies” with some lead-time before they become immediately essential in products.  Indeed, for any roadmap looking 10-15 years into the future, it has become evident that most of the known technological capabilities will be approaching or will have reached their limits.  It is this role of exploring new technologies and discovering ways to more effectively apply existing technologies to compact cooling that is central to the vision and operation of the proposed Center.

According to the most recent National Electronics Manufacturing Initiative (NEMI) Technology Roadmap (December 2000), the need for significant innovation and major alternative cooling solutions are being driven by the upper limit on heat sink sizes, tied to shrinking chassis sizes, and the limit on air flow rates placed by fan/blower space and increasingly stringent acoustic emission and electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) standards.  While efforts are called for towards the development of fans with high-pressure and low acoustic emissions, the development of cost-effective, compact and reliable water-cooling techniques as well as the application of heat pipes, vapor chambers, spray cooling, vapor-compression refrigeration and thermoelectric devices is seen as offering great potential for cooling technologies.  All six product sectors considered in the NEMI Roadmap face critical cooling challenges.


Other industry road-mapping efforts, such as the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS), have led to similar conclusions regarding the needs of this industry.

In many of these instances, miniaturized components that have high reliability and enhanced performance are crucial.  There is also significant interest in the industry in microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and meso-scale components to create low-cost, low-noise liquid-cooling components such as package-size cold plates and heat exchangers, micro heat pipes, miniature refrigerators, nanoparticles added to dielectric coolants for enhanced heat transfer in nanofluids, and microtextured surfaces for enhanced boiling.

The importance of this industry to the nation’s economic health is certainly beyond question, since this industry has almost single-handedly powered the information IT revolution and the robust US economy over the last decade.  The proposed research agenda for the Center is, in turn, crucial to the health of this industry.



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