You don't usually associate IBM with the solar power industry. But IBM researchers couldn't help but notice that one of the main difficulties in compressing the size of a solar collector, in a miniaturization process called "concentrator photovoltaics," (CPV) is the dissipation of heat. IBM used a lens to concentrate sunlight on a one centimeter square solar cell, which yielded 70 watts of usable power -- a record amount. But the heat produced would melt stainless steel. But then again, dissipation of heat from an electronic component is old hat for companies like IBM.
The initial results of this project will be presented at the 33rd IEEE Photovoltaic Specialists conference today, where the IBM researchers will detail how their liquid metal cooling interface is able to transfer heat from the solar cell to a copper cooling plate much more efficiently than anything else available today.
The IBM research team developed a system that achieved breakthrough results by coupling a commercial solar cell to an advanced IBM liquid metal thermal cooling system using methods developed for the microprocessor industry.
Specifically, the IBM team used a very thin layer of a liquid metal made of a gallium and indium compound that they applied between the chip and a cooling block. Such layers, called thermal interface layers, transfer the heat from the chip to the cooling block so that the chip temperature can be kept low. The IBM liquid metal solution offers the best thermal performance available today, at low costs, and the technology was successfully developed by IBM to cool high power computer chips earlier.
Nifty. Energy independence would be swell, but I'd really rather they came up with something to let me get rid of the fan in the back of my CPU tower first.