One group addressing this issue is a collective of engineers from Lockheed Martin, which is working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Microsystems Technology Office (MTO) on its Inter/Intra Chip Enhanced Cooling (ICECool)-Applications research program, with the goal being to develop a lighter, faster and cheaper way to cool high-powered microchips.
Limitations in cooling “threaten to derail the technology engine which has been responsible for much of the innovation in defense and commercial microelectronic systems,” according to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in its official description of its Inter/Intra Chip Enhanced Cooling (ICECool) program.
The point to the program is to challenge commercial, industrial, and university partners to develop new solutions using a simple premise — add water.
The Lockheed team’s solution focuses on directly cooling hot spots in electronics by spraying liquid on the bottom of the chip. The goal is to take the solution beyond movie-watching and game-playing — instead, the focus is on cooling thousands of microchips in sophisticated military systems like super computers, high-capacity data storage systems and military electronics such as radio frequency (RF) transceivers and solid-state lasers.
“There is tremendous opportunity in new techniques in microchip cooling,” says John Ditri, the principal investigator of the Lockheed Martin team. “These solutions could result in lighter, faster and cheaper highly-sophisticated electronics.”
“Right now, we’re limited in the power we can put into microchips,” Ditri adds. “One of the biggest challenges is managing the heat. If you can manage the heat, you can use less material and that results in cost savings. If you manage the heat and use the same number of chips, you’ll get even greater performance in your system.”
Lockheed Martin’s microfluidic cooling approach has already been verified in experiments as reducing thermal resistance by four times. The technology also cooled a thermal demonstration electronic chip, which dissipated 1,000 Watts per square centimeter area, and which had several local hot spots dissipating over 30,000 Watts per square centimeter.
The team has since move on to cooling high power RF amplifiers to validate electrical performance improvements enabled by improved thermal management. Using ICECool technology, the team’s able to demonstrate more than six times increase in RF output power from a given amplifier, all while running cooler than its conventionally cooled counterpart.
“This research is taking microfluidic cooling to the next level. DARPA is moving us to the leading edge of vastly improving the performance of electronics in the civilian, commercial and defense sectors,” Ditri said.