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posted by charon on Thursday April 20 2017, @12:22PM   Printer-friendly
from the it's-so-simple dept.

One of the biggest problems with computers, dating to the invention of the first one, has been finding ways to keep them cool so that they don't overheat or shut down.

Instead of combating the heat, two University of Nebraska-Lincoln engineers have embraced it as an alternative energy source that would allow computing at ultra-high temperatures.

Sidy Ndao, assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering, said his research group's development of a nano-thermal-mechanical device, or thermal diode, came after flipping around the question of how to better cool computers.

"If you think about it, whatever you do with electricity you should (also) be able to do with heat, because they are similar in many ways," Ndao said. "In principle, they are both energy carriers. If you could control heat, you could use it to do computing and avoid the problem of overheating."

They documented their device working in temperatures up to 630 degrees Fahrenheit (332 Celsius).


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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @12:54PM (3 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @12:54PM (#496819)

    hot to cold

    • (Score: 2, Insightful) by anotherblackhat on Thursday April 20 2017, @01:03PM

      by anotherblackhat (4722) on Thursday April 20 2017, @01:03PM (#496822)

      Electricity also only flows in one direction.

      Presumably, a "heat diode" would allow heat to flow in one direction or prevent the flow altogether.

    • (Score: 3, Touché) by maxwell demon on Thursday April 20 2017, @01:04PM

      by maxwell demon (1608) Subscriber Badge on Thursday April 20 2017, @01:04PM (#496823) Journal

      Not if I'm allowed to act on it. ;-) [see username]

      --
      The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
    • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Friday April 21 2017, @03:11AM

      by kaszz (4211) on Friday April 21 2017, @03:11AM (#497202) Journal

      A thermal diode would likely obey the law of heat going from hot to cold which is equalization in reality. But a diode would then prevent the flow in the other direction. Hence diode..

      To get cold into a hot mass there needs to be a heat pump. Which then uses power and has inefficiencies.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @12:58PM (5 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @12:58PM (#496820)

    The energy is being used inefficiently by the underlying computer; it's being used in a way that is wasteful—where the waste is in the form of heat.

    Saying that you are capturing that waste as a source of energy is just saying that you are making the computer more efficient.

    • (Score: 2) by ledow on Thursday April 20 2017, @01:10PM (4 children)

      by ledow (5567) Subscriber Badge on Thursday April 20 2017, @01:10PM (#496827) Homepage

      But the heat isn't really waste. That's the energy used to modify the voltages on the lines. It ALSO escapes at heat when you are changing the direction of enough current at enough speed (frequency). It's a result of the thing you want to do, it's not even really a byproduct as such, it's just literally the energy you don't want in that line any more going somewhere else.

      Unfortunately, eliminating it would require all kinds of changes to the way we work (even optical computing - technically, that requires something, somewhere to heat and cool at the frequency of the light pulses you want to make).

      I'm not sure you could move that heat any more efficiently, because moving it isn't a problem - heatsinks pretty much are called that for a reason and are pretty cool at removing the heat from the underlying device into themselves, and are a damn sight cheaper than fancy tech (even Peltier coolers are quite expensive in comparison).

      The problem is that the heat is inevitable, we can pretty much move it where we like quite well and cheaply, but we still need to get rid of it. I don't think computers that operate using components at higher temperatures fixes anything there. You're still using electrical power to heat things up (albeit incidentally) and the hotter they get the more power you're sinking into them in the first place.

      The problem is still how to get rid of the heat, even if it's served its purpose or could be used for other things.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @01:40PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @01:40PM (#496845)

        Just sayin'.

      • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Friday April 21 2017, @03:42AM (2 children)

        by kaszz (4211) on Friday April 21 2017, @03:42AM (#497211) Journal

        If however the semiconductor device can tolerate more heat. Less efficient heat dissipation can be allowed.
        That would allow 100 GHz processors to come out eventually given what is in the laboratories (heat is what kills them now).

        • (Score: 2) by ledow on Friday April 21 2017, @06:57AM (1 child)

          by ledow (5567) Subscriber Badge on Friday April 21 2017, @06:57AM (#497276) Homepage

          If heat was all that killed them, we could just put more cooling on. We can cool things down to liquid nitrogen temperatures really easily, especially in things like specialist supercomputers where expense, power consumption, heat generation, size of equipment etc. play second-fiddle to raw performance.

          Fact is that even huge supercomputers with liquid cooling can't go much beyond 8-9GHz.

          The reason is much more to do with: You can't make the processor larger, because signals can't propagate across it in time (literally a limitation of the speed of light movement of electrons) without special handling. If you put in that special handling, it slows everything down and turns much more into a kind of multi-core system where you have to ensure that one part is separate from another and waits for its signals. And power consumption scales cubicly with the frequency of the processor.

          • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Friday April 21 2017, @07:18AM

            by kaszz (4211) on Friday April 21 2017, @07:18AM (#497289) Journal

            What prevents the processors from going beyond 8-9 GHz then? what kind of processors works at this speed btw?

            Seems the path forward is to have something can switch signals using less power and higher efficiency.

            Limits of physics is a b-tch ;-)

  • (Score: 2) by hendrikboom on Thursday April 20 2017, @02:58PM (1 child)

    by hendrikboom (1125) on Thursday April 20 2017, @02:58PM (#496875) Homepage

    You could run a generator on the temperature difference between the chip and the environment. Of course there would still be thermodynamic limits on its efficiency, but you could use *some* of that energy again.

    • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Thursday April 20 2017, @05:40PM

      by bob_super (1357) on Thursday April 20 2017, @05:40PM (#496955)

      What's the efficiency, at temperatures that don't endanger the chip?

  • (Score: 2) by Spamalope on Thursday April 20 2017, @05:26PM (1 child)

    by Spamalope (5233) on Thursday April 20 2017, @05:26PM (#496945) Homepage

    If it can find a niche case to pay to develop the tech into something inexpensive, strap it onto an exhaust/boiler/chimnies to make use of otherwise waste heat.

    If it can be used simply to make extremely heat tolerant circuit it'll have applications for active sensors in hot areas. A self powered wifi monitor in a power plant steam pipe might make an improved flow rate or pressure sensor. Or be able to get one somewhere important where current sensors have practical issues. Or be in a Nuke plant, and not require external power so it'll continue working in an emergency giving it a safety advantage.

    • (Score: 2) by Scruffy Beard 2 on Thursday April 20 2017, @09:43PM

      by Scruffy Beard 2 (6030) on Thursday April 20 2017, @09:43PM (#497081)

      More likely, the high temperatures allow the waste heat to be used for other things.

      For some reason 3 of the articles I checked about "how water cooling" used JavaScript to blank/dim the page. No links then.

  • (Score: 2) by kazzie on Thursday April 20 2017, @05:47PM (1 child)

    by kazzie (5309) Subscriber Badge on Thursday April 20 2017, @05:47PM (#496961)

    I'm more of a Stirling engine [wikipedia.org] man, myself. A shame that it's too large to fit on a silicon wafer.

    • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Friday April 21 2017, @03:44AM

      by kaszz (4211) on Friday April 21 2017, @03:44AM (#497213) Journal

      The physics still apply so you just make it smaller. If nanocars can be made then surely a plain Stirling engine ought to be possible.

  • (Score: 1) by leftover on Thursday April 20 2017, @06:32PM (1 child)

    by leftover (2448) on Thursday April 20 2017, @06:32PM (#496985)

    I had no idea that pot had been legalized in Nebraska!

    --
    Bent, folded, spindled, and mutilated.
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 21 2017, @01:30PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 21 2017, @01:30PM (#497379)

      Are you talking about hot pot? [wikipedia.org] (pun intended)

      You should try it, it's great. :)

  • (Score: 1) by curril on Thursday April 20 2017, @11:14PM

    by curril (5717) on Thursday April 20 2017, @11:14PM (#497111)

    Humans CAN be used as batteries. And I've been pissed off about it all this time

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