Making phone chips thermoelectric

22 Feb 2008

A perennial problem in handset design is that the more processing power a device requires, the more power it needs. Meanwhile, the heat from mobile phones is a potential energy source that is simply wasted. Advances in thermoelectric technology could take that excess heat and turn it into electricity.

According to Nature, separate research teams at Caltech and the University of California, Berkeley say they've been able to increase silicon's ability to convert heat into electric current by as much as 100 times. This is a big deal because bulk silicon generally doesn't handle thermoelectric conversion well.

Silicon nanowires, on the other hand, look more promising. Put simply, thermoelectric conversion happens when heat flows from the hot side of a chipset to the cold side. An array of silicon nanowires could do the conversion - and silicon is cheaper than other thermoelectric compounds like bismuth telluride. End result: mobile devices that run cooler and use power more efficiently.

It's still very early days for thermoelectrics, mind. But Cronin Vining, a consultant on thermoelectrics, told Cellular News that the nanowire breakthrough is "the very first result on silicon in 60 years that's of any interest at all."

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