Thermal resistance is the ability of a material to resist the flow of heat.
Thermal resistance is the reciprocal of thermal conductance, i.e., lowering its value will raise the heat conduction and vice versa.
When thermal resistances occur in series, they are additive. Thus, when heat flows consecutively through two components each with a resistance of 3 °C/W, the total resistance is 3 °C/W + 3 °C/W = 6 °C/W.
A common engineering design problem involves the selection of an appropriate sized heat sink for a given heat source. Working in units of thermal resistance greatly simplifies the design calculation. The following formula can be used to estimate the performance:
Rhs is the maximum thermal resistance of the heat sink to ambient, in °C/W (equivalent to K/W)
ΔT is the required temperature difference (temperature drop), in °C
Pth is the thermal power (heat flow), in watts
Rs is the thermal resistance of the heat source, in °C/W
For example, if a component produces 100 W of heat, and has a thermal resistance of 0.5 °C/W, what is the maximum thermal resistance of the heat sink? Suppose the maximum temperature is 125 °C, and the ambient temperature is 25 °C; then ΔT is 100 °C. The heat sink's thermal resistance to ambient must then be 0.5 °C/W or less (total resistance component and heat sink is then 1.0 °C/W).