Intel is working together with researchers at Purdue University on a new ionic wind engine technology that can boost the performance of chip-cooling systems by up to 200 percent:
The researchers are developing ionic wind engines, devices that work with current air-cooling technologies such as fans and heat sinks. The devices pass an electrical current to stir up stationary air molecules, leading to better air flow and dissipation of heat.
"To date, we have demonstrated that the technology can enhance fan cooling by more than 200 percent," said Suresh Garimella, professor at Purdue University, who is also a researcher on the project.
Current air-cooling technology is attractive because of its cost advantages and ease of implementation, Garimella said. However, fans and heat sinks can't manage all the heat generated by chips.
Ionic wind engines can be placed on a chip or a laptop to complement the current air-cooling technology to better manage heat dissipation, avoiding the need to switch to alternative, costlier cooling approaches such as liquid cooling, Garimella said.
"The ionic wind technology we are developing is designed to work in addition to conventional fan-driven methods, not necessarily as a replacement for current systems," Garimella said.
Ionic winds are generated when electrically charged atoms stir up air molecules, which normally are stationary. When a current flows from a negatively charged electrode to a positively charged electrode, it collides with air molecules, producing positively charged ions that move back toward the negatively charged electrodes, creating an ionic wind. When the ionic wind gets the air molecules moving, the air flow on the chip surface increases, leading to better heat transfer and dissipation.
The engines are small enough to be fabricated on a chip or laptop and can be selectively placed depending on air flow, Garimella said. The researchers are trying to miniaturize the millimeter-scale devices to micron-scale dimensions.