Hydrogel, the miracle solution to rising TDPs?


While digging in their boxes, a group of researchers may have found an interesting solution to face the constant increase of TDP on computer products since the last years. A material allowing an effective cooling without the energy input required by a fan or even a liquid cooling circuit. Better still, this miracle solution has been around for years, it is used in our daily lives and is really cheap. Hydrogel is therefore a good idea and scientists have been able to put it into practice. It should be noted that others have already understood the interest of this material for the cooling of electric vehicle batteries and solar panels.


Hydrogel: soon a gel instead of thermal paste?

Hydrogels are commonly used in several everyday products such as bandages to relieve burns, contact lenses or hot or cold compresses. The particularity of this material is that it is able to absorb moisture from the air and evaporate it in order to cool the surface with which it is in contact. A group of researchers from the University of California led by Renkun Chen, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, have simply decided to use a layer of hydrogel 0.5 to 1mm thick between a PC processor and a conventional aluminum fan. The hydrogel layer absorbs moisture from the air and swells when the processor is not running at full speed. When the processor is under high peak load and heats up, the water evaporates and cools the electronics. In the experiment carried out, the hydrogel allowed the temperature to be lowered by 20°C (12° vs. cooler). This is a very promising figure, even though the initial measurement was made by placing the cooler alone (without thermal paste?) on the CPU.


As we said, this compound has many advantages with a particularly low price ($10 per kilogram) but for the moment, we still have to master its major drawback. The lifespan of the hydrogel is indeed limited because once all the water inside has evaporated, its cooling capacity is lost. However, the researchers working on this project are thinking of developing hydrogels capable of absorbing and retaining more water. Beyond the “classical” applications, the power consumption generated by the cooling solutions of electronic components is constantly exploding. For some it is a challenge in the race for energy sobriety, for others it could be a potential solution to increase the performance or reduce the costs of heat sinks.