Before Sharper Image went defunct, the company pushed its Ionic Breeze air purifier relentlessly through commercials. The big selling point of the product was that it used charged particles to move air without the need for a fan or other moving parts.
MIT Review reports that some researchers are using the same idea for cooling laptops and other electronic devices. Researchers from the University of Washington and a company called Tessera that has licensed the ionic-cooling technology from the university are working on adapting the power of ionic cooling to use in notebook computers.
According to the researchers, the ionic-cooling methods can extract about 30% more heat from a laptop than a traditional fan. In addition to removing more heat form hot internal components like the CPU, lab tests have also reportedly shown that the ionic-cooling method consumes about half the power a fan needs. Any power savings realized in a notebook computer directly increases the run time of the machine.
The ionic-cooler is based on research originally completed by Alexander Mamishev from Washington University. The tech was licensed by Tessera last year and researchers at the university and Tessera have been working to convert the technology into a smaller form that can be used inside electronics devices like notebooks, game consoles, projectors, and servers.
Tessera director of research and development Ken Horner said, "The early work focused on principles. We're now focused on optimizing it and fitting it into small form factors."
MIT Review reports that the ionic cooler developed by Tessera would sit near a vent inside a laptop. Heat pipes would be used to draw heat away from the heat generating components inside a computer and pull the heat towards the ionic-cooling system.
The ionic-cooler itself consists of a pair of electrodes, one of which is an emitter and the other a collector electrode. When voltage is applied between the two electrodes, ions flow from the emitter to the collector pushing neutral air molecules across a hot spot.
One of the biggest challenges for the technology was to create a very small voltage converter that could generate the needed 3,000 volts to power the ionic system. The 3,000 volts of power had to be generated from the notebook's 12v DC power supply.
Engineers were able to devise a suitable power supply that measures only 3 centimeters square from the power supply for a cold cathode fluorescent lamp. A problem still facing the researchers is one of dust. The technology has to be made as impervious to dust as current fans are. The ionic cooling device also has to be made more rugged.
The lifespan of the electrodes is currently not up to the 30,000 hours of life expected from a notebook computer. The researchers are reportedly working with new electrode materials now that are expected to solve the longevity issues with early electrodes. The researchers declined to give specifics on the materials being used due to patents that are pending on the technology.
Exactly how much cost an ionic-cooling system would add to a notebook is unknown at this point. Tessera's Craig Mitchell says that the technology will be ready for commercialization next year and that the cost of the cooler would be in the ballpark of where it needs to be.
Better methods of cooling the internals of computers will be needed for new technologies like the graphene multiplier to come to market with the potential to push CPU speeds higher.