The Company recently announced that the co-founder of BYD (one of worlds largest electric vehicle and battery manufacturers) joined their board. It was also announced that KUTG will serve as technology advisor to high-performance drone racing organization DR1.
Startup KULR Technology Uses Carbon Fiber to Cool Chips by Jim Turley
“I am now standing in a mixture of cooling fluid, gasoline, and cola.” – Adam Savage
September 6, 2017
What do Lycra-wearing bicycle racers have in common with server farms? KULR Technology might have the answer.
Everything gets hot if you put energy into it. That’s just basic physics. Everything also conducts heat; that’s also basic physics. But just as some materials conduct electricity better than others, some make better heat-transference devices than others. There’s a reason we make heat sinks out of copper instead of rubber.
With 100-plus elements to choose from, materials scientists have figured out that metals like copper and aluminum make pretty good heat conductors. The best conductor of all is diamond, which can conduct an astonishing 2000 watts per meter per degree Kelvin – the highest of any known solid (at room temperature) and five times better than copper. Jewelers use temperature-transference tests to tell real diamonds from fakes. (Oddly, diamond is also an electrical insulator, despite its thermal conductivity.)
Alas, mass-producing diamond heat sinks has some obvious economic drawbacks. Even synthetic diamonds aren’t very cost-effective unless you have a spacecraft-sized budget. That’s why we fall back on copper or aluminum.
But diamonds are just designer coal, right? So other forms of carbon should also make good heat sinks.
Turns out, they do. And carbon fiber, in particular, makes a pretty darned good heat conductor. Who knew?
That black woven material you see in high-end tennis rackets and racing bicycles, or stuck to the dashboards of cheap wannabe sports cars, is now making its way into the server room. It’s not there for structural integrity. It’s there as a newer, lighter, more flexible heat-transference device.
There’s a trick to it, though. You can’t just throw carbon fiber at a heat source and expect it to wick away all the excess thermal energy. You’ve got to design the fiber part of the carbon fiber just right. And that’s just what the folks at KULR Technology do.
KULR is a 20-person California company staffed with former aerospace/defense, semiconductor, and EDA specialists. They’ve put stuff on the Mars Rover and in the International Space Station. And now they’re turning their attention to the mainstream commercial market.
The company feels that thermal management is one of the great underappreciated problems of our age. Wearable, portable, IoT devices tend to be small and densely packed, leaving very little room for heat to escape. At the other extreme, big hulking servers pump out so much heat that service providers famously spend more money on air conditioning than the hardware it’s cooling.
And at the other other end of the spectrum, power sources also generate heat. Big battery packs like Tesla’s PowerWall (or a Samsung Galaxy Note 7) can get pretty warm, too. Home-brew battery packs may be a great way to recycle hundreds of old laptop batteries, but they also present a big danger of fire caused by thermal runaway. It takes only one overheating battery to set the whole pack ablaze.
KULR thinks that the solution is to use carbon-fiber heat pipes. One end of the carbon mesh contacts the heat source (your microprocessor, for example) while the other end connects to the heat sink, whether that be conventional copper fins, a liquid cooler, a heat exchanger, or some other apparatus. The carbon fiber conducts the heat; it isn’t the heat sink itself.
What makes KULR’s carbon cooler than anyone else’s? That’s a secret, naturally, but the company does explain that its material mixes carbon strands of many different sizes, from as small as 200 microns to as big as 4 millimeters. The strands are vertically aligned to create a carbon “velvet” that is light, strong, thermally conductive, and flexible. This last characteristic is one of its great strengths. Because the material is soft and pliable, it can be used in ways that metals can’t.
For example, you can squeeze KULR’s velvet in between components of different heights, sizes, and shapes, which would be tough to do with a hard material like copper or aluminum. You can also remove the velvet just as easily, like when it’s time to rework a board or remove a component. The carbon velvet acts more like a flap of flannel than a machined structural component.
Part of the carbon velvet’s effectiveness lies in carbon’s innate physical properties, but part is due to the material’s stranded nature. Strands present more surface area to the heat source than does a solid object, like a metal heat sink. That allows the velvet to soak up more heat than an equivalent mass of metal could. And, since it transfers that heat better than any metal, it’s doubly more efficient. This is particularly useful when the material is dipped in liquid coolant.
KULR doesn’t use standard autoclaves to lay up its carbon fiber, like those you’d find in, say, an exotic bicycle manufactory. The company developed all of its own equipment, in addition to its own materials. The company says the basic “architecture” of its carbon velvet is the same across its entire product line, although it offers quite a few variations. Some materials have a higher proportion of the longer fibers, making them stiffer but also more conductive. Some rely on smaller fibers to make them more pliable and resilient.
The company’s business model is as basic as its products are exotic: It sells stuff. KULR offers a range of premade heat-dissipation products in various sizes, shapes, lengths, and constructions. So far, KULR doesn’t license its technology, although CEO Michael Mo says he’s open to that possibility, especially for larger (read: aerospace) customers. Ultimately, he sees KULR becoming “a thermal platform company,” or getting acquired by an EDA or IP licensor. In the meantime, they’re keeping things cool.
KULR Technology’s Thermal Architecture Included in Two Upcoming NASA-JPL Space Missions
KULR’s proprietary, light-weight, high-performance carbon fiber heat sinks will safeguard crucial lasers and scanning components on the 2020 Mars Rover’s search for signs of life on Mars as well as a 2018 mission to measure ice deposits near the lunar south poll.
August 02, 2018 11:11 AM Eastern Daylight Time
CAMPBELL, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--KULR Technology, a subsidiary of KT High-Tech Marketing Inc. (OTC: KUTG), announced today that its carbon fiber thermal management solutions, in particular custom-designed phase change heat sinks, will be used on two upcoming NASA-JPL missions – the 2018 CubeSat “Lunar Flashlight” mission and the 2020 Mars mission as part of the Mars Rover SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environment with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals) equipment.
For both missions, the KULR Technology heat sinks will keep critical and sensitive components such as lasers and corresponding sensors at a cool and consistent temperatures throughout their use, avoiding signal distortion or other complications that can arise from overheating.
The 2018 CubeSat “Lunar Flashlight” mission will use a laser to explore water ice hidden in shadows and craters on the moon surface. It will be the first NASA and JPL mission to use the smaller, lighter, less expensive satellites known as CubeSats to orbit the moon.
“The use of these small CubeSats and exceptionally sensitive laser instruments to explore places such as lunar craters is a new and exciting kind of mission,” said KULR Technology’s CTO, Dr. Timothy Knowles, who has worked on NASA projects for decades. “And our technology, our heat sink, will keep the laser – the flashlight – from getting too hot and complicating or even corrupting the entire mission,” he said.
During the 2020 Mars Mission, SHERLOC will be mounted on the rover's robotic arm and use spectrometers, a laser, and a camera to search for organics and minerals that may be signs of past microbial life.
“The SHERLOC rover mission is literally the search for signs of extra-terrestrial life,” Knowles said. “That’s pretty exciting, but it also means that you have to be sure the equipment is performing as it should in ideal temperature ranges. Like the Lunar Flashlight mission, that’s what we can do.”
The innovative KULR design included in the “Lunar Flashlight” and “SHERLOC” projects is a unique and highly effective phase-change system that incorporates KULR’s proprietary, highly conductive vertical carbon fiber architecture with a material similar to wax that can change from solid to liquid while absorbing high amounts of heat energy. The combination of materials designed and assembled by KULR to exact specifications will draw heat safely away from sensors and other components needed to efficiently study lunar ice formations or scan for signs of life on Mars.
“For the Lunar mission, if the Flashlight laser gets above 24 Celsius the data can degrade -- jeopardizing the entire point of the mission,” Dr. Knowles said. “So, keeping it below 24 Celsius while the laser is spewing out heat at more than 100 Celsius is the trick. It’s like frying a hamburger and keeping the outside of the pan cool enough to touch – it’s not easy, but, in this case, very important.”
For the Mars mission, a pair of KULR heat sinks are designed to accept 5400 Joules of heat over an hour operating time while keeping the temperature of the spectrometer detector within design limits. All the components, including the KULR sinks, will be expected to last at least one Mars year – about 687 days on Earth.
For the CubeSat Flashlight and Mars Rover, KULR Technology will help keep mission-sensitive materials cool. But that’s not what KULR does exclusively. For the 2017 NASA NICER mission which explored deep space neutron stars, for example, KULR designed a system to keep the components from freezing during space exposure. Over years of work Knowles and his team at KULR have designed more than 100 different heat management configurations for NASA and other aerospace and commercial customers. According to Dr. Knowles, “Everything from solutions as big as a briefcase to ones as small as a quarter. If you need to manage heat energy during space exploration around sensitive electronics like lasers or optics, we can probably help.”
“The KULR team has been an essential part of many of our projects in the last two decades,” said Mike Pauken, Spacecraft Thermal Systems Engineer at the Jet Propulsion Lab. “We’re happy to be working with them and incorporating their thermal solutions as part of the SHERLOC Instrument on the upcoming Mars 2020 Rover Mission.”
KULR Technology’s core technology is vertically-aligned carbon fiber material that is lighter, more flexible, and more efficient than traditional thermal management products. KULR’s carbon fiber has virtually unlimited commercial and industrial applications in areas such as increasing the longevity of electronic components, maximizing the efficiency of energy storage, and contributing to the development and efficiency of electric vehicles and drones.
Among the more promising uses for KULR’s carbon fiber is dramatically improving battery safety. KULR, in development and testing with a NASA, has developed a thermal shield that can prevent dangerous lithium-ion battery fires and explosions due to thermal runaway. In March, KULR announced an agreement with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, to be the exclusive manufacturing partner of the Internal Short-Circuit (ISC) device that can cause predictable lithium-ion cell failures in controlled conditions.
The CubeSat “Lunar Flashlight” mission is set for launch in November 2018. The Mars 2020 mission is scheduled to launch in July or August 2020.
Founded by some of the foremost experts in aerospace thermal management, KULR Technology is joined by industry veterans in semiconductor and industrial manufacturing. The company’s investors and advisors include industry leaders from US, Japan, and China in the field of electrical vehicles, energy storage, communications, and semiconductors. KULR’s proprietary carbon fiber-based solutions are lighter, higher performance and more compliant than traditional solutions. Some applications of KULR’s carbon fiber material include space exploration, electric vehicles, cameras and laser displays, robotics, servers and data systems, power storage and consumer electronics. kulrtechnology.com
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