Scientists have developed a new device that can convert heat emitted by computers into an alternative energy source, an advance that could allow computing at ultra-high temperatures.
One of the biggest problems with computers, dating to the invention of the first one, has been finding ways to keep them cool so that they do not overheat or shut down, researchers said.
Instead of combating the heat, researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the US have embraced it as an alternative energy source that would allow computing at ultra-high temperatures.
Sidy Ndao, assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering, said the development of a nano- thermal-mechanical device, or thermal diode, came after flipping around the question of how to better cool computers.
"If you think about it, whatever you do with electricity you should (also) be able to do with heat, because they are similar in many ways," Ndao said.
"In principle, they are both energy carriers. If you could control heat, you could use it to do computing and avoid the problem of overheating," he said.
The device working in temperatures that approached 630 degrees Fahrenheit.
Ndao said he expects the device could eventually work in heat as extreme as 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit, which could have major implications in many industries.
"We are basically creating a thermal computer. It could be used in space exploration, for exploring the core of the earth, for oil drilling, (for) many applications," Ndao said.
"It could allow us to do calculations and process data in real time in places where we haven't been able to do so before," he said.
By taking advantage of an energy source that has long been overlooked, the thermal diode could also help limit the amount of energy that gets wasted, Ndao said.
"It is said now that nearly 60 per cent of the energy produced for consumption in the US is wasted in heat," Ndao said.
"If you could harness this heat and use it for energy in these devices, you could obviously cut down on waste and the cost of energy," he said.
The next step is making the device more efficient and making a physical computer that could work in the highest of temperatures, Ndao said.
Though the researchers have filed for a patent, Elzouka said there is still work to be done to improve the diode and its performance.
"We want to to create the world's first thermal computer," Ndao said.
"Hopefully one day, it will be used to unlock the mysteries of outer space, explore and harvest our own planet's deep-beneath-the-surface geology, and harness waste heat for more efficient-energy utilisation," he said.
The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.
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