Sandia LabNews

Way cool: Sandia’s ‘Cooler’ technology offers breakthrough in heat transfer for microelectronics

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MR. COOL — Sandia’s Jeff Koplow makes an adjustment to an earlier prototype of his Air Bearing Heat Exchanger invention. The technology, known as the “Sandia Cooler,” significantly reduces the energy needed to cool the processor chips in data centers and large-scale computing environments. (Photo by Dino Vournas)

A Sandia researcher has developed a new technology with the potential to dramatically alter the air-cooling landscape in computing. Sandia is now seeking partners in the electronics chip cooling field to license and commercialize the device.

The “Sandia Cooler,” also known as the “Air Bearing Heat Exchanger,” is a novel, proprietary air-cooling invention developed by Jeff Koplow (8365), who was recently selected by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) to take part in NAE’s 17th annual US Frontiers of Engineering symposium.

Jeff says the Sandia Cooler technology, which is patent pending, will significantly reduce the energy needed to cool the processor chips in data centers and large-scale computing environments. The yearly electricity bill paid by the information technology sector in the US is currently on the order of $7 billion and continues to grow.

In a conventional CPU cooler, the heat transfer bottleneck is the boundary layer of “dead air” that clings to the cooling fins. With the Sandia Cooler, heat is efficiently transferred across a narrow air gap from a stationary base to a rotating structure. The normally stagnant boundary layer of air enveloping the cooling fins is subjected to a powerful centrifugal pumping effect, causing the boundary layer thickness to be reduced to 10 times thinner than normal. This reduction enables a dramatic improvement in cooling performance within a much smaller package.

Additionally, the high-speed rotation of the heat exchanger fins minimizes the problem of heat exchanger fouling. The way the redesigned cooling fins slice through the air greatly improves aerodynamic efficiency, which translates to extremely quiet operation. The Sandia Cooler’s benefits have been verified by lab researchers on a proof-of-concept prototype approximately sized to cool computer CPUs. The technology, Jeff says, also shows great potential for personal computer applications.

Broader energy sector applications

The Sandia Cooler also offers benefits in other applications where thermal management and energy efficiency are important, particularly heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC). Jeff says that if Air Bearing Heat Exchanger technology proves amenable to size scaling, it has the potential to decrease overall electrical power consumption in the US by more than 7 percent.

Sandia is currently engaged in discussions with companies that have expressed interest in licensing the Sandia Cooler. The Labs will soon establish a separate process for exploring partnering and/or licensing opportunities in fields other than electronics chip cooling.

Sandia’s work on the cooler technology was funded initially through internal investments. Follow-on funding is also being provided by the Department of Energy’s Building Technologies Program within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).