Thermal diode - the first step towards computers that run on heat instead of electricity

Intel has learned how to remove excess heat in data centers using warm water, Lockheed Martin is mastering micro-drop cooling of microcircuits from the inside, and Microsoft is simply calling on the world's oceans to help. According to some reports, 60% of all energy for the operation of computing systems is wasted, turning into parasitic heat, which must be disposed of.

A team of scientists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln tried to create a thermal diode that not only gets rid of excess heat, but also uses it as the main principle of operation.

Heat is the enemy of the computer, because the physical processes of the functioning of diodes fail when the temperature rises. And it grows due to the active work of the diodes themselves, which leads to a paradoxical situation. We spend energy to overclock and unwittingly warm up the system, and then we look for ways to cool it down, again spending resources.

The new element consists of a fixed cooler plate and a movable heater. The system is self-regulating - the more one part heats up, the closer it gets to the other to maximize heat transfer. And vice versa, which allows you to remove excess without the use of active external devices. So far, the coefficient is small, heat transfer reaches only 11%, but the system successfully operates at a temperature of 257 ºC.

Calculations indicate that thermal diodes are capable of withstanding 327 ºC and even 700 ºC. Here is a ready-made base for a microcircuit that can be put on a research ship for the atmosphere of Venus, with its overheated and dense atmosphere. Or the hot bowels of our Earth, however, it is still necessary to adapt other parts of the computer for such a hell, in addition to chips. Therefore, the idea of ​​energy recovery looks more promising, when heat from a PC goes directly to the general circuit of a "smart home", without installing additional systems.

Thermal diodes are an experimental technology, so far scientists have created only one of the elements for which significant heating is not a fundamental hindrance in operation. There is still a lot of work to be done before it can be possible to develop a full-fledged computer operating on a different physical principle, using heat instead of electricity.