Bookmark and Share Email this page Email Print this page Print

Cooling Tech

Local company solves a big problem: how to cool computers

Photo: David Croxford

The Problem

For decades, engineers have known that heat seriously hinders a computer’s performance. The harder your CPU or graphics card works, the hotter it gets. In fact, some of today’s overworked microchips would explode if the designers didn’t include a cooling system. Until now, those clunky systems had more in common with the air conditioner in your car than the other whiz-bang components of your computer. But the micro-channel, liquid-cooled heat sinks of Hawaii’s Pipeline Micro may change that.

The System

“The cooling loop is really quite simple,” says CEO Wayne Karo, sketching the three-part system. The centerpiece is a tiny copper heat sink mounted over the CPU. Micro-channels (so called because the distance between them is measured in microns, or hundredths of a millimeter) are cut into one side of the copper wafer. In a closed loop, a micro-pump flows fluid through those fins. As it passes through the heat sink, the fluid boils away to a gas, carrying off excess heat. Finally, a small condenser converts the gas back to a fluid.

The Second Problem

According to Seri Lee, Pipeline’s new chief technology officer, thermo-management experts have long considered a system like this. The problem has always been that the bubbles of the boiling fluid disrupt the flow through the micro-channels. But, in 2007, Weilin Qu, a researcher at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, unexpectedly discovered a way to stabilize the boiling fluid. Pipeline licensed this new technology from UH and this December, it raised $7 million in venture capital.

The Market

Heat isn’t a problem just for computers; it’s the bugbear of all kinds of electronics. Pipeline hopes to see its heat sinks in devices as distinct as photovoltaic cells, LED lights and high-tech batteries. For now, though, it’s focused on building prototypes of its cooling systems into the products of some of the biggest players in elec- tronics. According to Karo, Pipeline expects to sign major contracts by the end of the year.

Hawaii Business magazine invites you to comment on our articles and the issues they raise. Comments are moderated for offensive language, commercial messages and off-topic posts and may be deleted. Some comments may be chosen for inclusion in the magazine on the Feedback page.

Add your comment:

 

Don't Miss an Issue!
Hawaii Business,June