Researchers from Rice University conducted theoretical analysis of how 3D boron nitride (aka white graphene) could be used as a tunable material to control heat in small electronics.

Previous studies have shown that graphene may have cooling capabilities, but 3D structures of boron nitride, which is also known as white graphene, have shown promising results as coolant in electronics devices.

Scientists have used graphene to build super-powerful processors, highly-efficient solar cells, higher definition headphones and even longer-lasting batteries.

Computer simulations demonstrated that 3-D structures of h-BN planes connected by boron nitride nanotubes could move phonons in all directions. The findings of this research will lead to a smaller and better way to control the heat.

Normal graphene is already a pretty good heat conductor, but it has limitations-heat moves easily across the surface of stacked graphene, but not so well across the material’s multiple layers.

According to researchers from Rice University, boron nitride has the potential to take cooling gadgets and devices to the next level by controlling how heat flows from within.

The scientists stated that in all electronic devices it’s very important for the heat to leave the system quickly and efficiently. Unlike graphene though, if you have a 3D structure of h-BN, heat will flow in all directions, instead of keeping to a single plane.

Shahsavari and Sakhavand calculated the possible flows of phonons across four structures of 3D white graphene with nanotubes fit to different densities and lengths.

The researchers noted that the junctions of hexagonal pillars and planes serve as “yellow traffic light” to slow down the energy flow from layer to layer, thus prevent heating. However, white graphene is a natural insulator while graphene is an excellent conductor.

“This type of 3-D thermal-management system can open up opportunities for thermal switches, or thermal rectifiers, where the heat flowing in one direction can be different than the reverse direction, ” Shahsavari says. The heat would always prefer to go one way, but in the reverse direction it would be slower.

Shahsavari is an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and of materials science and nanoengineering. The researchers used the National Science Foundation-supported DAVinCI supercomputer administered by Rice’s Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology.