A new super-efficient, ultrathin cooling technology developed at GE Global Research will allow engineers to continue miniaturizing tablets, laptops and other consumer electronics.
Researchers at GE, which sponsors this magazine, have developed a tiny thermal management component called Dual Piezoelectric Cooling Jets (DCJ) for the next generation of gadgets. The technology can dissipate heat at more than ten times the rate of naturally circulating air, and can do so using less energy and space than the fan-based units that have preceded it.
“DCJ can now be considered as an optimal cooling solution for ultrathin consumer electronics products,” says Peter de Bock, the lead electronics cooling engineer at GE Global Research. “It’s very low power, very simple and a unique solution for very thin laptops, ultrabooks and the next generation of more powerful tablets.”
At the technology’s heart are two ceramic plates that expand and contract when electricity is applied to them. Their bellows-like movement generates high-velocity airflow, which disturbs the boundary layer over a hot component and dramatically increases heat transfer.
The plates—capable of moving one cubic foot of air per minute—measure just one millimeter tall. An entire cooling assembly including DCJ technology comes in at four millimeters in height.
De Bock says the technology behind DCJ was developed to boost airflow over airfoils in aircraft engines and gas and wind turbines. In 2005, his team began looking at these industrial devices for electronics.
They have made significant advances over the last 18 months, working out issues with acoustics, vibration and power consumption to make DCJs ready for the consumer market.
The fruit of their work is a quiet system that is more than 50 percent smaller than current cooling units. DCJ also consumes less than 50 percent of the energy that comparable fan-based systems use, and no fan means no rotating parts to maintain and fix.
Chris Giovanniello, vice president of microelectronics and thermal business development at GE Licensing, says managing the heat created by digital devices while also continuing on the march to make them ever smaller had become a big problem for electronics engineers.
“GE’s patented DCJ technology not only frees up precious space for system designers, but it consumes significantly less power, allowing as much as 30 minutes of extra battery life,” says Giovanniello. “Best of all, DCJ can be made so quiet that users won’t even know it’s running.”
Out from the lab
GE has been building DCJ prototypes at the rate of 20 a month in its upstate New York laboratory, but has licensed the technology to Japan’s Fujikura LTD to handle the expected demand from manufacturers. The company will be ramping up high-volume production in 2013.
Besides the ability DCJ gives manufacturers to innovate smaller devices, GE expects them to take up the technology because build costs will be lower than current technologies thanks to their simplicity. They require neither bearings nor DC motors.
The units are expected to be inside electronics manufacturers’ products beginning in 2014, de Bock says.
“This is an enabler for old technologies to become next-generation technologies,” de Bock says. “The stories about tablets becoming too hot to hold in your hands—this will solve these challenges.”
Top Image: A working prototype of GE’s Dual Piezoelectric Cooling Jet technology. Courtesy GE.