Research Shows Path To Improved Thermal Properties

Researchers at the University of Michigan have invented a specific plastic compound that releases heat 10 times faster than a typical plastic compound. The invention has no short-term commercial implications, but shows the potential to design compounds that could create more powerful electronics packages, while saving weight and cost.  

Gun-Ho Kim, a research fellow in Jinsang Kim’s research group, holds a sample of a polymer. (University of Michigan)

The researchers linked chains of polyacrylic acid (PAA) with short strands of polyacryloyl piperidine (PAP) to form hydrogen bonds that are described as 10 to 100 stronger than the van der Waals forces in most other plastics.

“People have spent a lot of time designing polymers that conduct electricity for organic LEDs or solar cells, but no one has looked at how to engineer the thermal properties and we need polymers that conduct heat a lot better than the ones we have today,” said Kevin Pipe, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and corresponding author of a paper.

Jinsang Kim, an associate professor of materials science and engineering and another corresponding author of the paper, said: “There’s still a long way to go, but this is a very important step we made to understand how to engineer plastics in this way. Ten times better is still a lot lower heat conductivity than metals, but we’ve opened the door to continue improving.”

Usually metal or ceramics are added to plastics compounds to improve their thermal properties. The new approach could improve overall properties of the compound, while maintaining a lower mass. Obviously getting the right polymers to work with good thermal characteristics will be the real challenge.

The paper is titled “High thermal conductivity in amorphous polymer blends by engineered interchain interactions.” The research was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Basic Energy Sciences as part of the Center for Solar and Thermal Energy Conversion in Complex Materials, an Energy Frontier Research Center. 


About Doug Smock

Former Chief Editor at Plastics World and Senior Technical Editor Design News

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