Rice University reported earlier this week that two of its researchers, Rouzbeh Shahsavari and Navid Sakhavand, have completed the first theoretical analysis of how 3D boron nitride could be used to control heat flow in small electronic devices.
According to Shahsavari, the goal of the work is to improve the way heat moves in small electronic devices.
“Typically in all electronics, it is highly desired to get heat out of the system as quickly and efficiently as possible,” he told the university, adding that in the past the process has been complicated by the fact that “when you have layered materials on a substrate … heat moves very quickly in one direction, along a conductive plane, but not so good from layer to layer.”
Enter white graphene
Hexagonal boron nitride, also known as h-BN, or white graphene, may provide a solution. In its 2D form, h-BN “looks just like the atom-thick form of carbon known as graphene.” Graphene, widely described as the “wonder material” of the 21st century, is well known for being a good conductor of heat, and the same can be said for h-BN.
That ability to conduct heat that piqued the interest of Shahsavari and Sakhavand, and they began looking into how h-BN might be used to control heat flow.
Ultimately, they discovered that while heat moves ballistically across planes of boron nitride, h-BN planes connected by boron nitride nanotubes to form 3D structures should be able to transport heat “in all directions, whether in-plane or across planes” — as mentioned, that’s in contrast to what happens in most electronics, where heat moves quickly along a conductive plane, but moves poorly from layer to layer.
Summing up the benefits of the work, Shahsavari said, “[t]his type of 3-D thermal-management system can open up opportunities for thermal switches, or thermal rectifiers, where the heat flowing in one direction can be different than the reverse direction.” He added, “This can be done by changing the shape of the material, or changing its mass – say one side is heavier than the other – to create a switch. The heat would always prefer to go one way, but in the reverse direction it would be slower.”
It will certainly be interesting to see how Shahsavari and Sakhavand’s work progresses. As those in the graphene space are well aware, a key issue with the material is that because it is expensive to produce, it currently has no commercial applications. And while adding to the material’s potential uses does not guarantee that its prospect will improve, it is no doubt a step in the right direction.
Securities Disclosure: I, Charlotte McLeod, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.