To counteract heat and regulate body temperature we sweat and thus dissipate heat in the form of water vapor. So why not do the same with a thermal coating for electronic components, which are known to be subject to the heat problem? That’s what some researchers who published a study in the journal Joule thought.

In the research, scientists describe a new coating for electronic components capable of releasing water vapor so that the same components dissipate heat while in operation. It would be a solution for the thermal management of today’s microelectronics that has developed more and more by amassing components close to each other that tend to become increasingly hot. This is also the case with our smartphones, which without adequate heat dissipation systems would soon start to fail.

Usually, phase change materials (PCM) are used to dissipate heat in our electronic devices. However, PCMs are not always very efficient: they can absorb heat but the amount of total energy exchanged is relatively low. The new coating, on the other hand, is based on the liquid-steam transition of water, a transition that can reach an energy exchange 10 times higher than that of these materials.

It is a mechanism based on moisture absorption and inspired by mammalian sweating, as specified by Ruzhu Wang, a researcher at Jiao Tong University in Shanghai and senior author of the study. In this regard, scientists have used porous materials that can absorb moisture from the air to release water vapor once heated.

In particular, they selected a type of metal-organic framework (MOF), metal-organic structures, called MIL-101(Cr). With this material, they coated three 16 cm² aluminum sheets by heating them on a plate. The coating was able to delay the temperature rise and the more sheets they placed on top of each other, the greater the contrast effect to heating.

They then created a heat sink coated with this material to test it on an electronic device and again the coating reduced the temperature of the chips by up to 7°, proving to be very efficient. Now the researchers intend to install such a coating on smartphones as well, but at the moment the biggest obstacle is the cost of MOF, still too high to think of such an application on a large scale.