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IBM Announces Eco-friendly Supercomputer: Innovative Recycling project

written by: Venkatraman•edited by: Bill Bunter•updated: 6/27/2011

Recycling waste heat is a process several industries have adopted to achieve energy efficiency. However, for the first time a Hardware manufacturer, IBM has embarked on a Green project for building a water-cooled Supercomputer, where the waste heat will be used to warm the building it is housed in..

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    Using waste heat for other productive purposes has been a common trend in several industries. Most industrial waste heat streams are liquid or gaseous or a combination of the two. Often they have temperatures well above the ambient temperature, to as high as 2000 degrees F in some cases. The energy that is recoverable from these streams can easily displace totally or at least partially the energy input needs of an entire plant.

    There are several ways in which heat can be utilized as a source for energy-saving. In the household, for example there are many innovative ways the heat generated from clothes dryers can be recycled to reduce power consumption. In the industrial environment, for example, Absorption chillers, Adsorption chillers, Geothermal Heat pumps etc... are all illustrations of recycling or energy saving concepts.

    However, the technology industry has been slow in adopting methods to reuse heat to reduce computer power consumption or in other areas. One reason could be the relative immaturity of the high-tech industry. Cooling was a major problem during the first and second generation days, when large cooling systems were required for that occupied entire rooms. But, with advancement in technology with transistors, and chips, the need for cooling came down drastically, and hence the need for recycling heat was never realized. With widespread use of data centers, graphic co-processors and Virtual Servers, the cooling needs have again increased.

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    IBM Supercomputer Project

    With the clear objective of Eco-friendly computing, IBM has announced a project jointly with the Swiss Federal Inblade wc2 stitute of of Technology Zürich (ETH), with plans to build a first-of-a-kind water-cooled supercomputer that will directly recycle the excess heat in the water used for cooling the computer, by pumping it into the central heating system for warming the building during the winter season. This innovative system codenamed as Aquasar, "is expected to decrease the carbon footprint of the system by up to 85% and estimated to save up to 30 tons of CO2 per year, compared to similar systems using today's cooling technologies", according to an IBM press release.

    The water-cooled supercomputer will consist of two IBM BladeCenter Servers in one track and will have a peak performance of 10 Teraflops. This liquid cooled supercomputer research is planned as a three-year collaborative research program called Direct Re-Use of Waste Heat from Liquid-Cooled Supercomputers: Towards Low Power, High Performance, Zero-Emission Computing and Datacenters, which is funded jointly mainly by IBM, ETH Zürich and the Swiss Competence Center for Energy and Mobility (CCEM). Part of the system will be devoted to further research into cooling technologies and efficiencies by scientists of ETH Zürich, ETH Lausanne, the Swiss Competence Center for Energy and Mobility, and the IBM Zürich Research Lab

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    Once completed, the Aquasar will be a classic example of the high-tech industry embarking on Green Super Computing, and leading to drastic reduction in power consumption.

    As so aptly put by Dr. Bruno Michel, Manager Advanced Thermal Packaging at IBM's Zürich Research Laboratory,

    "Heat is a valuable commodity that we rely on and pay dearly for in our everyday lives. If we capture and transport the waste heat from the active components in a computer system as efficiently as possible, we can reuse it as a resource, thus saving energy and lowering carbon emissions. This project is a significant step towards energy-aware, emission-free computing and data centers,"