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When electronic devices are operating, energy is wasted as heat. While large machines can already make use of waste heat, up to now this has not been possible on the level of microprocessors. An international research team headed by TU Dortmund University has now managed to do it. The researchers present their results in the renowned scientific journal Nature Communications.
Information and communications technologies currently account for around 1.5 percent of the world's entire energy consumption, for example in the use of computers and mobile phones. When they're running, a large share of this energy is uselessly converted into heat, which in turn needs to be cooled down at great expense. Some high-performance computer processors get so hot that you could fry eggs on them.
One approach to tackling this problem is to further reduce energy consumption. On the other hand, an attempt can be made to convert the resulting heat back into usable energy. In principle, this has been possible for some time with large machines. In automobiles, for example, the hot combustion gases can be used in small "steam engines" or thermoelectric generators to produce electricity for the on-board electronics.
On the level of very small processors whose individual components are just a few billionths of a meter in size, such a conversion of heat into usable energy has not been possible. Yet that is precisely what a team of researchers from Dortmund, St. Petersburg, Nottingham, Kiev, and Le Mans has now managed to do. They present their results in the current edition of the renowned interdisciplinary journal Nature Communications.
A billion switching processes per second
In modern electronics, a billion or more switching processes per second are carried out in a single processor. With every switching operation, the processor heats up and then cools down until the next takes place. The temperature of the processor therefore fluctuates accordingly: It is heated up and cooled down a billion times per second.
In their investigations, the researchers simulated these switching processes by bombarding a chip with laser pulses spaced one-billionth of a second apart. They used the resulting periodic temperature variation to generate recyclable energy from the unused heat and transfer it to a magnetic layer. Such a layer can be used to store and process information: The energy gained can be used – in the form of magnons, the elementary particles of a spin wave – to switch the magnetic layer and thus to operate information technology devices.
"Such a temperature modulation is already present in many electronic devices," says Dr. Alexey Scherbakov, who is part of the research team associated with the TU Dortmund University physicist and rector Prof. Manfred Bayer. "With our research, we were able to show how you can use it instead of wasting it."
Kobecki, M., Scherbakov, A.V., Linnik, T.L. et al.: Resonant thermal energy transfer to magnons in a ferromagnetic nanolayer. Nat Commun 11, 4130 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-17635-1
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The campus of TU Dortmund University is located close to interstate junction Dortmund West, where the Sauerlandlinie A 45 (Frankfurt-Dortmund) crosses the Ruhrschnellweg B 1 / A 40. The best interstate exit to take from A 45 is "Dortmund-Eichlinghofen" (closer to Campus Süd), and from B 1 / A 40 "Dortmund-Dorstfeld" (closer to Campus Nord). Signs for the university are located at both exits. Also, there is a new exit before you pass over the B 1-bridge leading into Dortmund.
To get from Campus Nord to Campus Süd by car, there is the connection via Vogelpothsweg/Baroper Straße. We recommend you leave your car on one of the parking lots at Campus Nord and use the H-Bahn (suspended monorail system), which conveniently connects the two campuses.
TU Dortmund University has its own train station ("Dortmund Universität"). From there, suburban trains (S-Bahn) leave for Dortmund main station ("Dortmund Hauptbahnhof") and Düsseldorf main station via the "Düsseldorf Airport Train Station" (take S-Bahn number 1, which leaves every 20 or 30 minutes). The university is easily reached from Bochum, Essen, Mülheim an der Ruhr and Duisburg.
You can also take the bus or subway train from Dortmund city to the university: From Dortmund main station, you can take any train bound for the Station "Stadtgarten", usually lines U41, U45, U 47 and U49. At "Stadtgarten" you switch trains and get on line U42 towards "Hombruch". Look out for the Station "An der Palmweide". From the bus stop just across the road, busses bound for TU Dortmund University leave every ten minutes (445, 447 and 462). Another option is to take the subway routes U41, U45, U47 and U49 from Dortmund main station to the stop "Dortmund Kampstraße". From there, take U43 or U44 to the stop "Dortmund Wittener Straße". Switch to bus line 447 and get off at "Dortmund Universität S".
The AirportExpress is a fast and convenient means of transport from Dortmund Airport (DTM) to Dortmund Central Station, taking you there in little more than 20 minutes. From Dortmund Central Station, you can continue to the university campus by interurban railway (S-Bahn). A larger range of international flight connections is offered at Düsseldorf Airport (DUS), which is about 60 kilometres away and can be directly reached by S-Bahn from the university station.
The H-Bahn is one of the hallmarks of TU Dortmund University. There are two stations on Campus Nord. One ("Dortmund Universität S") is directly located at the suburban train stop, which connects the university directly with the city of Dortmund and the rest of the Ruhr Area. Also from this station, there are connections to the "Technologiepark" and (via Campus Süd) Eichlinghofen. The other station is located at the dining hall at Campus Nord and offers a direct connection to Campus Süd every five minutes.