Machines Can’t Always Take the Heat

Heat leads to a staggering 50% increase in electricity demand during the summer in hotter countries, posing serious threats of electricity shortages or blackouts, coupled with higher greenhouse gas emissions.

How to prevent heat damage

High temperatures can also change the way oils in your car’s engine behave, leading to potential engine failures. Fluids like engine oils become thinner as they heat up, so if it gets too hot, the oil may not be thick enough to properly lubricate and protect engine parts from increased wear and tear.

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In either case, the energy needed to heat or cool something comes from heat that is otherwise wasted. In fact, waste heat from power plants could hypothetically support 27% of residential air-conditioning needs, which would reduce overall energy consumption and carbon emissions.


Machines Can’t Always Take the Heat

Two engineers explain how heat waves threaten everything from cars to computers

First, ensure that your machines are kept in an air-conditioned, well-insulated space or out of direct sunlight.

Extreme heat can affect every aspect of modern life, and heat waves aren’t going away in the coming years. However, there are opportunities to harness extreme heat and make it work for us.

To keep the centers cool, incoming dry air from the outside is often first sent through a moist pad. The water from the pad evaporates into the air and absorbs heat, which cools the air. This technique, called evaporative cooling, is usually an economical and effective way to keep chips at a reasonable operating temperature.

In general, the electronics contained in devices like cellphones, personal computers, and data centers consist of many kinds of materials that all respond differently to temperature changes. These materials are all next to each other in tight spaces. So as the temperature increases, different kinds of materials deform differently, potentially leading to premature wear and failure.

Published Aug. 29, 2023, on The Conversation.

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Airplanes aren’t designed to take off at extreme temperatures. As it gets hotter outside, air starts to expand and takes up more space than before, making it thinner or less dense. This reduction in air density decreases the amount of weight the plane can support during flight, which can cause significant travel delays or flight cancellations.

Battery degradation

We’re engineering researchers who study how machines manage heat and ways to effectively recover and reuse heat that is otherwise wasted. There are several ways extreme heat affects machines.

Plus, the closer together machines are, the more dissipated heat there will be in the surrounding area.

Deforming materials

Scientists and engineers are developing ways to use and recycle the vast amounts of heat dissipated from machines. One simple example is using the waste heat from data centers to heat water.

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For example, if a heat wave makes it 30°F (16.7°C) hotter than normal, the viscosity—or thickness—of typical car engine oils can change by a factor of three.

Additionally, a hot day will cause the air inside your tires to expand and increases the tire pressure, which could increase wear and the risk of skidding.

Cooling designs that use innovative phase-changing fluids can help keep machines cool, but in most cases heat is still ultimately dissipated into the air. So, the hotter the air, the harder it is to keep a machine cool enough to function efficiently.

Cellphones and similar devices with lithium-ion batteries stop working as well when operating in climates above 95°F (35°C). This is to avoid overheating and increased stress on the electronics.

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As the temperature increases and the molecules vibrate more, the average space between them grows, causing most materials to expand as they heat up. Roads are one place to see this; hot concrete expands, constricts, and eventually cracks. This phenomenon can happen to machinery, too, and thermal stresses are just the beginning of the problem.

Heat waves and warming temperatures around the globe pose significant short- and long-term problems for people and machines alike. Fortunately, there are things you can do to minimize the damage.