January 2, 2012

Powering a Cat Warmer Using Thin-Film Thermoelectric Conversion of Microprocessor Waste Heat

  • Simha Sethumadhavan and Doug Burger
  • Department of Computer Sciences
  • The University of Texas at Austin
New thin-film materials offer potentially greater effciencies when converting heat to electricity using the thermoelectric ef­fect. Applied to microprocessors, this technology can mitigate a number of critical problems in one fell swoop: the dangerous amount of heat produced by laptops, climate-change inducing electricity consumption, and unhappy house-cats that are insufficiently warm. By ex­tracting waste heat from a high-end microprocessor and converting the heat to electricity using thin-film technology, the resultant current to powers a portable cat warmer.

The thermoelectric effect discovered by Seebeck in 1822 can be utilized to convert heat differentials into electric voltage. When one end of metal is heated, it behaves like a battery, as the thermal gradient causes the electrons to diffuse and the phonons to vibrate. The vibrating phonons preferentially allow some electrons to diffuse towards one end, creating a difference in potential. The efficiency of thermo­electric generators (TEG) is generally low (2-4%), but recent advances in nanotechnology indicate that newer materials can improve the efficiency at least two-fold. TEG made out of new nanomaterials can benefit microprocessors; even a 6W recovery from a 100W processor can be enough to drive the processor cooling fan, power up certain microarchitectural structures, or ensure that house-cats are sufficiently cozy.

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3 Comments

Many thanks to Simha Sethumadhavan and Doug Burger for the excellent contribution to our Webtorials community.

Doug Burger is Director of Client and Cloud Applications at Microsoft Research, where he also directs research in computer architecture. Before Microsoft, he was a Professor of Computer Science at the University of Texas (Austin) for 10 years, inventing and prototyping new computer architectures. Two of his least favorite things in the world are wasted electricity and shivering cats, so he was delighted to collaborate with Prof. Sethumadhavan on this particular research that attacks both problems at once. The cat featured in the paper, Fatimus, is alive and well despite having two close calls.

Simha Sethumadhavan is an assistant professor of computer science at Columbia University in New York. At Columbia, he directs the Computer Architecture and Security Technologies Lab (CASTL). Research at CASTL is targeted at mitigating energy-inefficiency and insecurity in computing systems. Prof. Sethumadhavan obtained his PhD from the University of Texas at Austin in 2007.

For those who are wondering, "Phonons" are real, and it is not a typo for "photon."

For reference, see:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phonon

quantum processor that is made simple,by taking optic cables and silcon and measuring the tempurature.Take an optic cable lense coat it in graphene and oil then frack with freon(ionize).This ionized cable will allow for the optic cable to transfer wave particle duallity with electrons on the coating.This inturn allows for electrons to travel with the photons(ionized lense)to the silicon chip where the electrons gauge the nano particle electrons (AMOUNT OF ELECTRONS) and the photons measure the nano particle speed (frequency).TERRY FRASER 13 SYDNEY DR SW CALGARY ALBERTA (10% IS FINE)

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