IBM says it is working towards developing technology that would make it possible to create zero-emission data centers, largely through the reuse of wasted heat.

In a presentation ( delivered at LISA ’09, the Large Installation System Administration Conference in Zurich, IBM research manager Bruno Michel, outlined the ongoing work. Michel told the conference that IBM scientists are researching how to use high-performance liquid cooling, which would allow data centers to operate with coolant temperatures above the free cooling limit in all climates.

Liquid cooling is employed at the chip-level through micro channels or micro jets to eliminate the need for chillers. The system uses water to cool chips and the heated water can then be used in various ways, including being piped into homes or nearby businesses. IBM estimates enough heat can be captured from a 10 megawatt data center to heat the equivalent of about 700 homes.

The technology would work best in a cold climate location, in a densely populated area where the captured heat could more easily be deployed.

At IBM’s research lab in Zurich, Michel’s team was able to remove 75% of the heat load from high performance nodes which reached temperatures of about 140 degrees Fahrenheit. IBM hopes to be able to refine the technology to produce the first zero-emission data centers within five years.

Such a breakthrough would be a tremendous boost for the technology industry. Energy consumption from data centers has doubled over the last four years and is expected to continue to increase at a rate of about 15% per year. One study estimates data centers now consume about 1.2% of U.S. energy.




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