Problems with overheating mobile phones could be a thing of the past thanks to a plastic being developed by Loughborough University scientists. The new plastic, unlike the ones currently used in mobile phone covers, dissipates heat created by the lithium batteries and reduces the likelihood of injury to the owners.

Creative Commons HTC One Max by Karlis Dambrans https://www.flickr.com/photos/janitors/ is licensed under CC BY 2.0Though the principal investigator into the research, Dr. Sara Ronca, has focused on mitigating the effects of poor heat dissipation from mobile electronics, she suggests that manufacturers of all kinds of electronic devices such as computers, electric motors and generators, solar panels, batteries and heat exchangers in power generation could benefit from the new plastic. In addition, it is expected that the new material can be used as a heat sink in computers as a replacement for metals and composite materials.

The plastic, which is called ultra-high molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE), is already used to make products from prostheses to body armor. It is not normally good at conducting heat, but Dr. Ronca has developed a method of synthesizing and processing it so that it does.

“We know that it works — we know it is thermally conductive — because we already have the data. What we have to do now is find out how we can tailor the material for any industrial application,” she said.

Dr. Ronca is building on work started by Professor Sanjay Rastogi at Loughborough University. She has received a grant valued at approximately $165,000 (£98,000) from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) for the two-year project whose aim is to get the plastic ready for industry, with the participation in kind of Teijin Aramid, a company from the Netherlands.

Plastics do not conduct heat well because of the random paths and entanglement of their polymer chains. UHMWPE is no different. While it has chains that are aligned in the same direction, which are vital for heat transfer, they are tangled like spaghetti. Therefore, it has low thermal conductivity and is also difficult to process. Professor Rastogi and Dr. Ronca have developed a synthetic/processing strategy that allows achieving less entangled and highly aligned chains able to promote the heat transfer by something called lattice vibration. Research will examine whether they can tailor thermal conductivity by tailoring the material properties, according to the university.