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Researchers from IBM and ETH Zurich have developed a liquid battery that uses prior “flow” technology and applies it to small computer chips. Computer chips can be stacked with alternating layers of chips and flow batteries that would both power and cool them at the same time. (via IBM Research Zurich)


Heat is a byproduct of the work done by batteries, computers, and computer chips, and overheating is a problem that is often tackled with fans and various systems of ventilation. Now, scientists from IBM and ETH Zurich are approaching the issue of heat regulation by using liquid electrolyte systems to both power and cool these systems simultaneously. Flow batteries use two liquid electrolytes to provide energy through an electrochemical reaction that occurs when they are pumped to the battery cell from the outside through a closed electrolyte loop. Usually, flow batteries are used for larger scale stationary power systems like wind and solar energy because they are capable of storing energy in the two electrolyte liquids for a long time with minimal degradation, but now it is being applied to computer technology. The team in Zurich have developed “miniaturized redox flow cells” that use flow battery technology to cool the computer chips using the liquid electrolytes already involved in the flow cell which power the computer.


They team in Zurich managed to find two liquids that are effective as both flow-battery electrolytes and cooling agents that dissipate heat from the computer chips in the same circuit, and according to ETH Zurich doctoral student, they are, “...the first scientists to build such a small flow battery so as to combine energy supply and cooling.” The team’s battery has a measured output 1.4 Watts per square centimeter, which according to Fabio Bergamin of ETH Zurich News, is a record-high for its given size. Even after accounting for the power required to pump the liquid electrolytes to the battery, the resulting net power density is still 1 Watt per square centimeter. The battery itself is only about 1.5 millimeters thick so their plan would be to assemble stacks of computer chips with alternating layers of computer chip and their thin battery cell, which provides the electricity, and at the same time cools the stack to prevent overheating.


At the moment, the electricity generated by the redox flow cell batteries is too low to power a single computer chip, therefore, as Bergamin notes, their work must be optimized by partners in the industry in order to be used in a computer chip stack. The scientists identify that the flow battery approach has other potential applicability in things like lasers and solar cells, but above all, this team has demonstrated that small flow batteries are a concept worth exploring.


The video provided below shows how flow batteries use liquid electrolytes on a large scale



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