Thermal interface materials (TIMs) are a key component in a multitude of electronic and energy storage devices. Essentially, if heat is generated and needs to be transferred — to a heat sink, for example — then a TIM is typically needed. The form and composition of TIMs vary greatly across applications and markets, with most large material suppliers also manufacturing TIMs. There are several industries that are starting to emerge or focus more on thermal management and the requirement for TIMs, leading to new and extremely large potential markets.
A new report from IDTechEx considers the forms and compositions of TIMs, benchmarks commercial products, and details new advanced materials. It also analyzes current TIM applications in emerging markets as well as the key drivers and requirements in these areas, such as electric vehicle batteries, data centers, LEDs, 4G and 5G infrastructure, smartphones, tablets, and laptops. In addition, 10-year granular market forecasts are given for each of these segments in terms of application area and tonnage.
Electric vehicle batteries
Many view electric vehicles (EVs) as the future of transportation. The EV market continued its growth in 2020 despite the impact of COVID-19 on the automotive industry as a whole. Not only is the EV market set to grow rapidly over the next 10 years, but within this, there is a trend toward higher energy density, faster charging, longer lifetimes, and fire safety, all of which require effective thermal management and materials to support this.
There is no consensus on battery design for electric vehicles with a variety of cell formats, thermal management strategies and pack designs, each of which influence the TIM quantity and utilization. IDTechEx has extensive research into the design of EV batteries, with a comprehensive model database covering the market shares of different cell formats, energy densities, and much more.
The report covers demand for EV batteries across multiple vehicle segments — cars, buses, trucks, vans, and two-wheelers — along with automotive teardowns of TIM utilization and analysis of trends and drivers toward specific TIM formats.
5G infrastructure and smartphones
As most will be aware, 5G is the next generation of telecommunications networks, taking over from 4G/LTE. 5G promises extreme download and upload rates with super-low latency. These features have the potential to enable various applications, such as autonomous vehicles, virtual/augmented reality, and other internet-of-things technologies. The majority of the 5G network to date is in the sub-6 GHz frequency band; however, the mmWave network is the one that has the potential to achieve the feats mentioned above. The mmWave network also presents the majority of the challenges, as signal propagation is poor and can be easily blocked, which leads to the use of many small cells in a dense network to create the necessary coverage. These small cells are also much more compact, leading to a greater density of electronic components and, hence, heat dissipation challenges. Historic air conditioning will not be suitable for these compact and frequent mmWave antennas, therefore there will be an increased requirement for high-performance TIMs to enable effective passive thermal management.
Smartphones are also seeing challenges with 5G. In such a compact package, dissipating heat from the new generation of 5G chips and the multiple 5G antenna presents a significant challenge, with many manufacturers increasing their TIM utilization and combining it with options like vapor chambers.
The increased requirements for TIMs in both 5G infrastructure and smartphones combined with the huge deployment and sales figures lead to a big market for TIMs. The report highlights and discusses the thermal challenges around 5G infrastructure and smartphones.