A Cooler Cloud: A Clever Conduit Cuts Data Centers’ Cooling Needs by 90 Percent
The company that created it, Forced Physics, plans to install the technology in a pilot plant in February.
Data centers are hungry, hot, and thirsty. The approximately 3 million data centers in the United States consume billions of liters of water and about 70 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, or nearly 2 percent of the nation’s total electricity use. About 40 percent of that energy runs air conditioners, chillers, server fans, and other equipment to keep computer chips cool.
Now, Forced Physics, a company based in Scottsdale, Ariz., has developed a low-power system that it says could slash a data center’s energy requirements for cooling by 90 percent. The company’s JouleForce conductor is a passive system that uses ambient, filtered, nonrefrigerated air to whisk heat away from computer chips. In February, Forced Physics plans to launch its first on-site pilot test at a commercial facility in Chandler, Ariz., owned by H5 Data Centers. There, a rack of 30 conductors will cool IT equipment consuming 36 kilowatts, as sensors track airflow, temperature, power usage, and air pressure. Information gleaned from the one-year test will be used to demonstrate performance to potential customers.
The computer equipment in a typical data center runs at about 15 megawatts, devoting 1 MW of that power to server fans. But such a data center would require an additional 7 MW (for a total load of 22 MW) to power other cooling equipment, and it would need 500 million liters of water per year. At a time when data-center traffic is expected to double every two years, the industry’s appetite for electricity and water could soon reach unsustainable levels.
According to Forced Physics’ chief technology officer, David Binger, the company’s conductor can help a typical data center eliminate its need for water or refrigerants and shrink its 22-MW load by 7.72 MW, which translates to an annual reduction of 67.6 million kWh. That data center could also save a total of US $45 million a year on infrastructure, operating, and energy costs with the new system, according to Binger. “We are solving the problem that electrons create,” he said.
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