Material may replace many metals as lightweight, flexible heat dissipators in cars, refrigerators, and electronics
Polymers are usually the go-to material for thermal insulation. Think of a silicone oven mitt, or a Styrofoam coffee cup, both manufactured from polymer materials that are excellent at trapping heat.
Now MIT engineers have flipped the picture of the standard polymer insulator, by fabricating thin polymer films that conduct heat – an ability normally associated with metals. In experiments, they found the films, which are thinner than plastic wrap, conduct heat better than many metals, including steel and ceramic.
The team’s results, published in the journal Nature Communications, may spur the development of polymer insulators as lightweight, flexible, and corrosion-resistant alternatives to traditional metal heat conductors, for applications ranging from heat dissipating materials in laptops and cellphones, to cooling elements in cars and refrigerators.
“We think this result is a step to stimulate the field,” says Gang Chen, the Carl Richard Soderberg Professor of Power Engineering at MIT, and a senior co-author on the paper. “Our bigger vision is, these properties of polymers can create new applications and perhaps new industries, and may replace metals as heat exchangers.”