CU-Boulder technology for thinner electronics commercialized by Kelvin Thermal of Boulder

Published: Feb. 17, 2015

Kelvin Thermal Technologies and the University of Colorado have executed an exclusive license agreement that will allow the company to develop and market thermal management technologies that could enable the development of ultra-thin and flexible smartphones, wearable electronics and other commercial and military systems.

As computers, smartphones and other systems become more advanced and consume more power in smaller spaces, they require more efficient ways to manage the heat generated by their components. Thermal management is a major constraint in the design of new systems, since it affects not only the reliability of a system, but also its surface temperature, energy consumption and battery life.

Current thermal management solutions are a limiting factor in the thickness and flexibility of smartphones and wearable electronics, said Professor Y.C. Lee of CU-Boulder’s mechanical engineering department, a co-founder of Kelvin Thermal Technologies.

With funding from the U.S. Department of Defense under its Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a group of CU-Boulder researchers including Lee has developed an ultra-thin, flexible thermal “ground plane.” The ground plane is a flat, heat-transfer device as thin as a credit card that can be mounted on electronic devices -- a new approach to thermal management that replaces conventional materials like graphite, copper and aluminum used to remove heat from devices, said Lee.

The thermal ground plane is at least three times as efficient as graphite and ten times as efficient as copper. Another important advantage of the CU technology licensed by Kelvin Thermal is its ultra-thin profile, taking up less space in smartphones and other small systems, Lee said. In addition, the device is flexible, a necessity for the development of flexible smartphones and wearable devices.

“Hot areas on consumer products such as smartphones and tablets are not only annoying to the consumer, they can also decrease performance,” said Lee. “Flexible thermal ground planes passively maintain comfortable skin temperatures without the use of fans and other temperature control techniques used in larger systems.” Lee led the research group that developed the new technologies and currently is serving as the company’s president and is a co-founder of Kelvin Thermal.

“In addition to consumer electronics, our thermal ground planes will also have applications like more efficient cooling systems for power plants and temperature control of building and vehicles,” said Associate Professor Ronggui Yang of mechanical engineering, also co-founder and treasurer of the Kelvin Thermal company.

“The exclusive IP agreement strengthens the existing collaboration between Kelvin Thermal and CU-Boulder to explore these exciting opportunities,” said Yang. “CU-Boulder students and postgraduates will also have opportunities to work on real-world problems through the collaboration with Kevin Thermal.”

“We believe that better thermal ground planes are an important step toward thinner and safer electronics,” said Marta Zgagacz of the CU Technology Transfer Office. “We’re thrilled with Kelvin Thermal Technologies’ dedication to developing and commercializing the technology.”

Lee and Yang incorporated Kelvin Thermal Technologies in June. The company develops thermal management technologies to control temperatures in advanced electronics such as wearable electronics, smartphones, tablets, computers, light emitting diodes, laser modules, power electronics and radio frequency modules.

“The issue of thermal management is significant today in all aspects of design,” said Allen Duck, Kelvin Thermal CEO. “The Kelvin Thermal approach to heat transfer and thermal management offers design teams opportunities to create thinner, smaller more efficient electronics systems. In creative hands it becomes a game-changing technology.”

The CU Technology Transfer Office pursues, protects, packages and licenses to business the intellectual property generated from research at CU. Tech Transfer provides assistance to faculty, staff and students, as well as to businesses looking to license or invest in CU technology. For more information about technology transfer at CU, visit  

The technologies developed by Lee’s research group were developed under DARPA funding, contract number N66001-08-C-2006. Approved for Public Release, Distribution Unlimited.

Y.C. Lee, 303-819-0050
Lindsay Lennox, CU Technology Transfer Office, 303-860-6201


A new CU-Boulder technology that should help in the development of thinner and more flexible smartphones, wearable technologies and other commercial and military systems has been licensed by Kelvin Thermal Technologies of Boulder. Photo courtesy University of Colorado