The Difference Between Thermal Conductivity and Thermal Impedance
Thermal Interface Materials (TIMs) are useful for thermal management in electronic components, as they enhance heat transfer from a heat-generating component to a heat dissipater, or heat sink. One important aspect when selecting a TIM for your application is knowing the material’s ability to transfer heat, which is often given by way of thermal conductivity and/or thermal impedance.
Across the industry, manufacturers often publish thermal conductivity in units of Watts / meter-Kelvin as well as thermal impedance in units of °C – inches2 / Watt on their datasheets. So, what is the difference between these two, and how should you consider them when selecting a TIM?
Thermal conductivity is a material property and describes the ability of the given material to conduct heat. Therefore, when a material’s thermal conductivity is high, the material is a better thermal conductor. This property is independent of material size, shape or orientation in a homogeneous material, and because of this, thermal conductivity is an idealized value.
To understand thermal impedance, we must first understand thermal resistance and thermal contact resistance.