New Thermoelectric Device Poised to Revolutionize Cooling in Next-Generation Electronics

by François Dupont
thermoelectric cooler

A team of scientists has successfully developed an innovative thermoelectric cooler that exhibits remarkable improvements in cooling power and efficiency, offering a potential breakthrough in managing heat in next-generation electronics. Compared to existing commercial units, this cutting-edge device showcased an astounding 210% increase in cooling power density while maintaining a similar coefficient of performance.

Researchers from Penn State University achieved this feat by utilizing half-Heusler alloys and implementing a unique annealing process, resulting in heightened cooling power density and carrier mobility.

Revolutionary Thermoelectric Cooler for Future Electronics

The advancement of next-generation electronics, characterized by smaller yet more powerful components, necessitates innovative cooling solutions. The novel thermoelectric cooler designed by Penn State scientists stands out by significantly enhancing cooling power and efficiency compared to currently available commercial thermoelectric units. This breakthrough has the potential to play a pivotal role in managing heat in upcoming high-power electronics.

Bed Poudel, a research professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Penn State, expressed great optimism about the device’s future applications. He stated, “Our new material can deliver thermoelectric devices with exceedingly high cooling power density. We have demonstrated that this new device not only competes favorably in terms of technoeconomic measures but also outperforms the current leading thermoelectric cooling modules. The new generation of electronics will greatly benefit from this development.”

Half-Heusler Materials Boost Cooling Power Density

The utilization of half-Heusler materials presents a significant breakthrough in enhancing the cooling power density of thermoelectric devices, offering a promising cooling solution for the next generation of high-power electronics. (Credit: Courtesy Wenjie Li)

Mechanism and Challenges of Thermoelectric Cooling

Thermoelectric coolers function by transferring heat from one side of the device to the other upon the application of electricity. This process establishes a module with distinct cold and hot sides. By placing the cold side in contact with heat-generating electronic components such as laser diodes or microprocessors, excess heat can be effectively dissipated, efficiently controlling the temperature. However, as these components continue to grow more powerful, thermoelectric coolers will also need to expel more heat.

The newly developed thermoelectric device showcased a remarkable 210% increase in cooling power density compared to the leading commercial device, which was constructed using bismuth telluride. Additionally, it potentially maintains a similar coefficient of performance (COP), which represents the ratio of useful cooling to the energy required. These findings were reported in the journal Nature Communications.

Addressing Challenges in Thermoelectric Cooling

Shashank Priya, vice president for research at the University of Minnesota and co-author of the paper, shed light on the capabilities of the new device. He explained, “This device solves two out of the three major challenges in developing thermoelectric cooling devices. First, it provides high cooling power density along with a high COP. This means that a small amount of electricity can effectively remove a significant amount of heat. Second, for high-powered lasers or applications requiring localized heat removal from a small area, this device offers an optimal solution.”

Innovative Half-Heusler Material in the New Device

This groundbreaking device is constructed using a compound of half-Heusler alloys, a class of materials known for their distinctive properties that hold great promise for energy applications such as thermoelectric devices. These materials exhibit considerable strength, thermal stability, and efficiency.

The researchers employed a unique annealing process, which involves manipulating the heating and cooling of materials. This process allowed them to modify and regulate the material’s microstructure, eliminating defects. Notably, this particular annealing process had not been previously employed for fabricating half-Heusler thermoelectric materials.

The Annealing Process and Its Effects

The annealing process led to a substantial increase in the material’s grain size, resulting in fewer grain boundaries. Grain boundaries are regions in a material where different crystallite structures meet, and they can impede electrical or thermal conductivity.

Wenjie Li, assistant research professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Penn State, described this transformation, stating, “Typically, half-Heusler materials possess a very small grain size, with grains on the nanoscale. Through our annealing process, we can control the grain growth from the nanoscale to the microscale—a difference of three orders of magnitude.”

The reduction in grain boundaries and other defects significantly enhanced the material’s carrier mobility, influencing the movement of electrons within it and resulting in a higher power factor. This power factor is particularly crucial in electronics-cooling applications as it determines the maximum cooling power density.

Applications in High Thermal Management and Future Implications

Li further emphasized the significance of this advancement, stating, “For instance, in laser diode cooling, a substantial amount of heat is generated in a very small area, and it must be maintained at a specific temperature for optimal device performance. This is precisely where our technology can be applied. It holds great potential for local high thermal management.”

In addition to the high power factor, the materials produced the highest average figure of merit, or efficiency, of any half-Heusler material in the temperature range of 300 to 873 degrees Kelvin (80 to 1,111 degrees Fahrenheit). This indicates a promising strategy for optimizing half-Heusler materials for near-room-temperature thermoelectric applications.

Poudel noted, “As a country, we are investing heavily in the CHIPS and Science Act, and one challenge may lie in how microelectronics can handle high-power density as they shrink and operate at higher power levels. This technology might be able to address some of these challenges.”

Reference: “Half-Heusler alloys as emerging high power density thermoelectric cooling materials” by Hangtian Zhu, Wenjie Li, Amin Nozariasbmarz, Na Liu, Yu Zhang, Shashank Priya, and Bed Poudel, 6 June 2023, Nature Communications.
DOI: 10.1038/s41467-023-38446-0

Contributing to the project were Amin Nozariasbmarz, assistant research professor, Na Liu and Yu Zhang, postdoctoral scholars at Penn State, and Hangtian Zhu, associate professor at the Institute of Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing.

The researchers received support from grants provided by the Office of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Office of Naval Research, U.S. Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, and the Army Small Business Research Program.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about thermoelectric cooler

What is the innovation described in the text?

The innovation described in the text is a thermoelectric cooler with significantly improved cooling power and efficiency for next-generation electronics.

How much increase in cooling power density does the device demonstrate?

The device demonstrates a 210% increase in cooling power density compared to existing commercial units.

What materials are used in the construction of the thermoelectric cooler?

The thermoelectric cooler is constructed using half-Heusler alloys, a class of materials known for their energy application potential.

What is the significance of the annealing process in the device’s development?

The unique annealing process employed in the device’s development allows for the manipulation of the material’s microstructure, resulting in reduced defects and increased grain size, which enhances carrier mobility and power factor.

How does the new device address challenges in thermoelectric cooling?

The new device addresses challenges in thermoelectric cooling by providing high cooling power density and a high coefficient of performance (COP), enabling efficient heat removal from small areas and offering an optimal solution for high-powered applications.

What are the potential applications of this innovation?

The innovation holds potential applications in managing heat in high-power electronics, particularly in scenarios such as laser diode cooling or situations requiring localized high thermal management.

Are there any future implications mentioned?

Yes, the researchers suggest that this technology could help address challenges in high-power density microelectronics, as the industry continues to shrink component sizes and operate at higher power levels.

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CoolingExpert July 17, 2023 - 6:49 pm

this new cooler is a game changer! the increased cooling power density is a big deal for high-power electronics. finally, a solution that can handle the heat!

John123 July 18, 2023 - 1:25 am

wow this new thermoelectric cooler is amazin! it can cool down stuff so much better than the old ones. i cant wait to see it in next-gen electronics!

TechGeek89 July 18, 2023 - 1:28 am

gr8 article! i luv how they used half-heusler alloys, never heard of those b4. now our gadgets can stay cool even when they get smaller but more powerfull. thx science!

SciFiFanatic July 18, 2023 - 4:48 am

i always knew technology would catch up to the sci-fi movies! thermoelectric coolers are the future. soon, we’ll have gadgets that stay cool no matter how intense the action gets. bring on the next-gen electronics!


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