The world is rapidly running out of ways to economically cool down data centers like those used for services like Google, eBay, Amazon and other huge companies. A typical 10-megawatt data center uses the equivalent of the energy of a small town, of which at least half is used to cool down all those humming computer cabinets.
The problem is getting so bad that Facebook recently relocated its European data center to the Arctic circle in order to keep it running cooler and more cost effectively, clearly not an ideal solution unless you’re particularly fond of penguins.
But help may be at hand with a new technology from a company called Iceotope, which promises to fix two problems in one. The technology recycles the huge amount of heat generated by these servers and uses it to warm up large buildings cheaply and efficiently.
The system uses a remarkable new liquid cooling material called 3M Novec, which is 1000 times more effective at carrying heat than air. So instead of surrounding these big computer cabinets with air conditioning and fans, the whole internal electronic panel is immersed in the new liquid, which is non-conductive, and then heat is drawn off using ordinary water pumped through pipes. Even rainwater or river water can be used for part of the system.
The video below demonstrates how this works, by showing a standard iPhone dunked in the liquid which still operates perfectly well.
The result is an extremely effective way of keeping computers cool while using the waste heat for adjacent offices and other buildings. The technology has been developed in conjunction with the University of Leeds in the UK, and a production unit has already been deployed to prove that it works, and so far the results are very impressive.
The heated output water can reach temperatures of 50 degrees centigrade, and it takes just 80 watts of power (around the power of a standard light bulb) to harvest the heat from 20 kilowatts of computer use – with no aircon, humidity control or air purification systems needed. The fact that the system is completely sealed means it can also be used in extreme environments, say the middle of a desert or even on a submarine.
The new technology reduces data center cooling costs by 97% and even helps to improve the efficiency of the computers themselves (heat is an enemy of efficient processing), so it appears to be a win-win situation for everyone. Here’s hoping the system can reduce the effect of our mouse clicks on all those billions of websites and help make the world a cooler place all round.