“The latest smartphone is thinner than its previous reincarnation,” Halford says. “I don’t know about you, but there’s a point where I don’t care. We’re far reaching a performance plateau where improvements are incremental so the incentive to upgrade is minimal. Tablet sales are falling away because they’re a purely consumptive device. We don’t create on them, we just use them … . We don’t care about it being thinner or lighter, so what can carbon fiber realistically offer?”
And there may be other problems with going thinner. CNET explains the spontaneous fires that drove Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 out of production like this: Phones powered by highly flammable lithium ion battery packs can have problems if a battery short-circuits due to, for example, a puncture in the overly thin sheet of plastic that separates the battery’s positive and negative sides. That tiny hole point becomes a path for electricity, which can heat the flammable liquid electrolyte quickly enough that the battery explodes.
But these are challenges that present opportunity for innovative technology companies. For example, KULR Technology Corp. is applying aerospace-based carbon fiber technology as a heat management solution for consumer electronics.
As electronic devices meet demand for more powerful performance, they generate greater levels of heat. A heat sink is used to disperse the heat and prevent overheating. Aluminum and copper-based heat spreaders and exchangers have been doing this job, but KULR seeks to replace these components with a highly flexible heat sink made from its proprietary carbon fiber-based technology. According to the company, carbon fiber thermal interface materials provide lower contact pressure, higher compliance and longer reliability than traditional materials.
KULR calls its material carbon velvet. According to an October 2016 Forbes magazine article detailing the technology, KULR can change the length and density of its fibers to change the heat transfer characteristics and cost. The velvet can reportedly ease the assembly of the final product by molding to body parts.