Graphene could soon make smartphones a lot cooler, literally

27 Mar 2017

Soldering a smartphone. Image: Jangprayoon/Shutterstock

Graphene might be hot property in the world of materials science but, within the field of computer science, it has been found to offer some pretty ‘cool’ possibilities.

Graphene – the graphite-based material that is just one atom in thickness – can only be the next big wonder material for so long before it becomes useful in the real world.

Having already shown itself to be a brilliant electric conductor and a material capable of building super-strong objects out of, it is now lending its talents to the world of computer science.

According to a team of researchers from Rutgers University, graphene could be the answer to the pressing question being asked by smartphone manufacturers: how do you make powerful chips – quite literally – cool?

Publishing its findings in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team found that by combining graphene with a boron nitride crystal substrate, it could create a more powerful and efficient cooling mechanism for computer chips.

As smartphones increase in power, the challenge of keeping them cool becomes a greater challenge.

By using this graphene mixture, the team has achieved a power factor – the measured effectiveness of cooling in chips – twice as good as any existing thermoelectric coolers.

Graphene likely to win out

Current coolers use silicon dioxide to keep the chip cool, but this hinders performance as it scatters electrons that can carry heat away.

By placing the graphene on devices made of boron nitride, billions of transistors can work together quickly and more efficiently.

Equally impressive is this new method’s way of cooling the chip without the need for any moving parts – just a layer of graphene.

“The electronics industry is moving towards this kind of cooling,” said Eva Andrei at Rutgers University.

“There’s a very big research push to incorporate these kinds of coolers. There is a good chance that the graphene cooler is going to win out. Other materials out there are much more expensive; they’re not as thin and they don’t have such a high power factor.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic