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The Future is Annealed Pyrolytic Graphite - The Future is Annealed Pyrolytic Graphite
Tue Mar 19, 2013 | 5:00P| PermaLink

When the thermal conductivity of copper and aluminum heat spreaders just won't cut it, what's a space born NASA Laser Death Ray to do? The future it seems, revolves around a material called Annealed Pyrolytic Graphite.

Pyrolytic Graphic is a carbon based material with exceptionally high thermal conductivity - second only to diamond - but only in specific axes; it's also relatively fragile. Thermacore recently sent out a PR about a new hybrid material called 'K-Core Annealed Pyrolytic Graphite' it developed which is essentially APG sandwiched between sheets of aluminum, or other metals. The K-Core material was recently selected by NASA to cool optics in the U.S. Geological Survey Landsat 8 satellite.
Example of K-Core APG material

Let's consider the numbers: where a solid aluminum heat spreader has a thermal conductivity of 126W/mK, the same heatspreader with an Annealed Pyrolytic Graphite core would see thermal conductivity on the order of 1092W/mK. That's not a typo.

What is Annealed Pyrolytic Graphite?

Annealed Pyrolytic Graphite is a high conductivity material made from a "unique form of pyrolytic graphite manufactured by the decomposition of a hydrocarbon gas in a high vacuum furnace (by Chemical Vapor Deposition - CVD)." (source: Scott L. Kugler). Why isn't everything made from this wonder material you ask? As you might guess, it's not quite as simple as swapping metal for Pyrolytic Graphite; while thermal conductivity in metals is not orientation specific, in APG thermal conductivity is very much orthotropic. What that means is APG material possesses extremely high thermal conductivity in its horizontal layers (a-axis, b-axis = 300-1700W/mK) and quite low thermal conductivity when moving from vertically from layer to layer (c-axis = 3.5-10W/mK).
Text & image source:

Writes; "Annealed Pyrolytic Graphite (APG) is orthotropic and as such the direction of the thermal loading may also determine the thermal performance of the heat sink. The low through-the-thickness thermal conductivity of the APG can lower the effective thermal conductivity of the part when there is a thermal path normal to the plane of the APG. For most applications, this characteristic is small because the high in-plane conductivity of the APG quickly spreads the heat, thus lowering the thermal density (Q/A). At the reduced thermal density, the temperature rise through-the-thickness is significantly reduced. However, designs that require a high-flux density energy(>10w/cm2) heat path normal to the plane of the APG, the temperature rise can be significant."

Neat material, maybe one day soon it will trickle down to computer heatsinks...

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