For GE engineers, the jet engine is a gift that keeps on giving.
First they used jet engine components that allow fighter planes to fly at supersonic speeds to build powerful and efficient gas turbines. Now scientists at GE’s global research labs adapted technology that improves air flow through jet engine compressors for a super-thin cooling device that could revolutionize consumer electronics and usher in a new generation of thinner, quieter, and more powerful tablets and laptops. “It’s like a pair of lungs, it contracts and expands,” says Peter deBock, lead thermal systems engineer at GE Global Research.
The device, which deBock calls, “dual piezoelectric cooling jets,” is just 3mm thick, the size of two stacked quarters. Comparable cooling fans that move the same amount of air are twice as large, consume double the amount electricity, and are much more expensive to make.
The “lungs” that deBock is talking about are two nickel discs connected on either side to a sliver of special “piezoelectric” ceramics. “Piezoelectric” means the ceramic bits change size in response to electricity. When alternating current flows through them, they contract and expand as fast as 150 times per second. This vibration makes the discs “breathe like a bellows pump,” deBock says. The device sucks in air from the surrounding area and expels it at high velocity through the center, no bearings or a DC motor required.
DeBock and his team already replaced a fan inside a laptop with one of the devices. “We had a lot of space left over,” deBock says. “It can make the laptop thinner or allow adding more electronics.” Since it is also less power hungry, GE estimates that the cooling technology can add as much as 30 minutes of extra battery life.
The device can be used to cool jet engine electronics, laptops, and other devices. “There are different tricks that you can do and make its smaller or larger,” deBock says. “The concept can be scaled to whatever the needs of the application are.”
GE received the first patent on the technology in 2004, and has gained a dozen more patents since. The company has already licensed the technology to Japan’s Fujikura LTD, a leading manufacturer of cooling devices.