27 August 2013

New tech cools batteries 50-80% more than liquid cooling

It’s common knowledge in the tech industry that the battery is the bottleneck that limits the potential of new devices. Either the battery can’t provide a large enough amount of power, can’t provide power long enough, can’t recharge quickly enough, or some combination of those three. Another issue with batteries is that they can run too hot, which sometimes means their output must be limited for the sake of safety. Now, a new technology is able to cool batteries around 50-80% more than one of the most powerful types of cooling on the market, liquid cooling.

Anyone that has used a gaming laptop on their actual lap, or played a resource-intensive game on their phone knows full well how hot a device’s battery can get. A powerful desktop rig — when innumerable fans don’t cut it anymore — benefit from a liquid cooling system. Unfortunately for the consumer market, mobile devices are too small — and perhaps too delicate — to employ the use of a liquid cooling system, which means there is a limit on how hot a battery can run. If, for example, just one of the cells in a lithium-ion battery runs too hot, it could cause a chain reaction where nearby cells join in, increasing in temperature toward a catastrophic result. This is known as thermal runaway. This, as various horror stories on the internet often show, could lead to a battery explosion. Gcorelab, a Singapore-based company, has received funding of $482,000 to further develop its new cooling technology that it claims uses the same amount of power as liquid cooling, but works 50-80% better.

Rather than tubes full of liquid, Gcorelab’s system uses a combination of regulating sensors and cooling plates that transfer heat away from sensitive areas. If that sounds similar to a standard heatsink, that’s because it is, but a little more complicated. 
As shown above, if the temperature becomes too cold for a battery — which is not entirely uncommon during torrid winters — Gcorelab’s system is able to flip a switch and go from cooler to heater. The built-in sensors are key to the system, and can monitor the temperature, and tell the heater-cooler combo to tweak it whenever necessary.

Gcorelab claims that its temperature regulating system is cheaper than liquid cooling — and since it uses about the same amount of energy, but generates results up to 80% better, could be a boon for just about anything that uses lithium-ion batteries.

Just recently, Boeing’s 787 Dreamliners experienced fires as the result of batteries overheating, which in turn caused the fleet to be grounded. To operate the on-board systems, each plane used two enormous lithium-ion batteries rather than the standard pneumatics or hydraulics. Though the batteries experienced the aforementioned thermal runaway, Boeing eventually got everything patched up. If the cooling system used was able to cool up to 80% more than the already-powerful liquid cooling, perhaps the fleet would not have experienced such an issue.

Currently, there’s no telling exactly when this type of cooling system may come to market — especially the consumer market — but a cheaper, more efficient, more powerful cooling system would certainly be a boon for our mobile devices.

Now read: Will your body be the battery of the future?


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