Recycling waste heat in computers to increase efficiency

Paul Raven @ 09-02-2009

computer processor pinsThe ever-louder whining of my computer’s processor fan is a constant reminder that there’s a lot of energy wasted in modern microprocessors (and that it’s high time I replaced the ageing beast for a machine less likely to collapse at any moment).

While we’re unlikely to be offered room-temperature computer systems any time soon, engineers in the emerging field of phononics are looking at ways to harvest that waste heat and make computers more efficient in the process:

It exploits the fact that some materials can only exchange heat when they are at similar temperatures. The small memory store at the heart of their design is set to either a 1 or 0 temperature by an element that can rapidly shunt in or draw out heat. The store itself is sandwiched between two large chunks of other materials.

One of those materials is constantly hot, but can only donate heat to the memory store when that too is hot, in the 1 state. The material on the other side of the memory patch is always kept cold, but can draw heat away from the store whatever state it is in.

Early days yet, of course, but maybe thermal computing will give Moore’s Law another stay of execution when we reach the practical limits of circuit integration. [via SlashDot; image by Ioan Sameli]