Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have managed to squeeze a gas-powered engine into a coin-sized silicon chip.
With notebook computers now being capable of delivering almost the same performance as desktops, the only problem that still keeps them behind is the power issue. Although current laptops are able to function for up to a few hours using just the battery power, this is due to the over clocked technology of manufacturing laptop batteries which has even lead in some cases to severe problems such as batteries bursting into flames.
Researches at MIT have already thought of the fact that sooner or later the current Lithium-Ion technology widely used in manufacturing notebook batteries will reach its limits and will no longer be improved. The idea which they came up with doesn’t imply any new battery technology, but rather proposes a tiny gas-turbine to provide the required electricity for notebooks.
The researches have managed to enclose a tiny gas-turbine engine inside a silicon chip about the size of a quarter dollar that can run 10 times longer than a battery of the same weight. This breakthrough was achieved not by making millimeter-scale version of a normal gas-turbine from welded and riveted pieces of metal, but by building the microengine out of six silicon wafers piled up like pancakes and bonded together. To achieve the necessary components, the wafers are individually prepared using an advanced etching process to eat away selected material. When the wafers are piled up, the surfaces and the spaces in between produce the needed features and functions.
Inside a tiny combustion chamber, fuel and air quickly mix and burn at the melting point of steel. Turbine blades, made of low-defect, high-strength microfabricated materials, spin at 20,000 revolutions per second — 100 times faster than those in jet engines. A mini-generator produces 10 watts of power. A little compressor raises the pressure of air in preparation for combustion. And cooling (always a challenge in hot microdevices) appears manageable by sending the compression air around the outside of the combustor.
The project still has some technological challenges to get over, but the MIT research team has set the goal of having it done by the end of this year. So by this time, next year, when you refuel your car at the gas station, make sure you also take your laptop for refueling.