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Supercomputing Hardware Technology

Supercomputer Cools Off Using Groundwater 62

gManZboy writes "The Department of Energy is no stranger to supercomputers, and its Pacific Northwest National Lab has proven that it can continue to be an innovator in the field by using what the lab calls a unique groundwater-fed cooling system in the lab's newest supercomputer, Olympus. The novel cooling system translates normal groundwater into big savings for the new 162 teraflop supercomputer, which is being used in energy, chemical, and fluid dynamics research. The setup translates into 70% less energy use than traditionally cooled systems."
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Supercomputer Cools Off Using Groundwater

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  • by YesIAmAScript ( 886271 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @05:03AM (#38746184)

    It says it's a closed loop of groundwater?

    That makes no sense at all. A closed loop won't get rid of heat, just transport it. There must be a system which exchanges the heat out of the water to the environment. Maybe a radiator system, maybe a chiller, maybe an evaporative cooling system.

    Or maybe it's not really a closed loop?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 19, 2012 @05:08AM (#38746194)

      The water forms a closed loop, not the heat. That's what my 12 yo cousin makes of the statement, YMMV

    • by will_die ( 586523 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @05:22AM (#38746222) Homepage
      From what I have read the water doing the cooling is closed but the pipes go down into the ground and the heat transfer goes into the running groundwater.
      So if you are downstream and using that water you will not notice a difference, but I cannot find anything about where the water finally goes to.
      • Yay! Someone who understands the concept of a closed loop cooling system!! I salute you sir!
        (of course the article IS badly written)

    • by beelsebob ( 529313 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @05:55AM (#38746328)

      The way the system at St. Andrews University worked when they first installed it was that water was pumped from a fountain in a quad outside through the computer, and then back out into the fountain. They got 2 for 1 –a pretty landscape gardening project, and a computer cooling system.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        What happens when somebody puts soap in the fountain? Algae not a concern?

    • by Anonymous Coward

    • by JoeMerchant ( 803320 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @09:18AM (#38747044)

      It says it's a closed loop of groundwater?

      That makes no sense at all. A closed loop won't get rid of heat, just transport it. There must be a system which exchanges the heat out of the water to the environment. Maybe a radiator system, maybe a chiller, maybe an evaporative cooling system.

      Or maybe it's not really a closed loop?

      Step 1, pump up some groundwater.

      Step 2, notice that it's pretty cool.

      Step 3, feed cool water to your supercomputer to keep it cool.

      Step 4, notice that you have an awful lot of excess water to deal with.

      Step 5, drill another well some distance away and pump the warmer water back into the ground.

      Et Voila': Closed loop.

      The heat energy is being pumped into the groundwater. Groundwater is a fairly massive thermal sink. If every house in suburban Tampa tried to do this, the groundwater would heat up, but if you're a single user of a huge natural resource it appears as if you're not making any impact and "getting your energy for free."

      • by Jawnn ( 445279 )

        Et Voila': Closed loop.

        Et non. What you have described is a conduit that is open on both ends, not a closed loop.

        • Et Voila': Closed loop.

          Et non. What you have described is a conduit that is open on both ends, not a closed loop.

          The ends are in a "black box" - the ground, what you can't see must be simple, indestructible, and there for exploitation, right? Remove water from black box, return water to black box - closed loop for closed minds.

          Actually, you could bury a heat exchanger in the aquifer, but it wouldn't be as efficient as the system you are describing as "open loop", would be vastly more expensive to build, and likely more damaging to the environment as well...

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I've always had a problem with this sort of thing. I realize that the groundwater aquifer is an absolutely massive heat sink. Same goes for lakes and even streams, but the concept boggles. Of course while me, you, my wife, everybody I know heat up the outside air with air conditioning every day (in FL at least, the north - not so much). Somehow the thought of dumping my waste heat into a lake/river/stream/groundwater is not that palatable. I first heard of this concept when I worked at a swimming pool comp

      • Ya... no... []

        Look down to closed loop, 38746222 is correct. The water is in a closed circuit w a heat exchange going on w the ground below.

    • It says it's a closed loop of groundwater?

      That makes no sense at all. A closed loop won't get rid of heat, just transport it. There must be a system which exchanges the heat out of the water to the environment. Maybe a radiator system, maybe a chiller, maybe an evaporative cooling system.

      Or maybe it's not really a closed loop?

      The article is light on details as to how it actually works but there are many different ways one is simply running pipes into the ground and back up for the heat transfer, another way is to run the closed loop around the main water line slightly increasing the temperature of the tap water but bringing the loop temperature down significantly, a the third way is to pump water out of an aquifer and run it through your closed loop and back into the aquifer. Any of these systems will work, the closed loop into

  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @05:08AM (#38746196)
    When I investigated a bunch of energy-saving options for a building I was managing, geothermal heat pumps [] were by far the most cost effective (not to be confused with geothermal energy). For our building, its payback time would have been 3-5 years. There are no fancy materials, no high-tech equipment involved. Just a bunch of buried/sunken plastic tubes with water flowing through them. The ancient Romans used a variant of it [] to air condition their homes.

    Essentially they're the same thing as a window heat exchanger/air conditioner, except instead of using the ambient air as the heat dump, they use the ground or groundwater/pond. This provides a much steeper and more favorable temperature gradient in both winter and summer, allowing the heat exchanger to operate much more efficiently. Whereas air is about 90 F in summer, the ground is about 55 F making it much easier to pump heat into the ground. In winter the air is about 30 F, while the ground is still about 55 F, making it much easier to pump heat out of the ground. (Below about 40-50 F, most heat exchangers just shut off and run a heating coil, because it's so inefficient trying to extract heat from air that cold.)

    They're an easy energy-saving measure which quickly pays for itself. I'm surprised more new building construction doesn't incorporate it. Makes sense for cooling computers, motors, etc. too if you've already got the infrastructure in place for your home or building.
    • by ciderbrew ( 1860166 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @05:51AM (#38746314)
      I'd start up an Evil company and lower the water table. I'll not pump that water back unless you pay me .. One Millions Dollers. Mwaahaha aa Mwwhaahaa haaaa.
    • by squoozer ( 730327 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @05:58AM (#38746338)
      We looked into fitting one to our house here in the UK. We were doing a full renovation so it seemed like a sensible time to do it. After talking to a number of firms it became apparent that it wasn't a practical technology for the majority of homes here. We have a fairly large garden by modern UK standards but it was less than half the size required for the heat pump pipes. The only option, therefore, was to sink a number of bore holes. The cost of doing that made the system financially impractical - we were much better off just burning gas. It's a shame because I think the technology has a lot to offer and perhaps one day when there's enough demand there will be enough drilling rigs to push the price down.
    • I believe George W. Bush's house in Crawford uses something similar.

    • by afidel ( 530433 )
      I would think for cooling a datacenter in the PNW freecooling would be even more efficient than geothermal, though with supercomputer density energy consumption perhaps they can't move enough air around without significant building modifications that would outweigh the energy savings? Oh, and the summary is pretty misleading, they aren't using 72% less energy _total_, they are using 72% less energy on cooling.
    • by Lando ( 9348 )

      I researched the possibility to do this myself at one time. The problem isn't so much the installation, while significant it will pay for itself given time. The problem was that maintenance work on the system requires licensing and there are so few people with the skills and certification that hiring someone to work on such a system generally runs 6x or more of the going rate. So while 20k to put in the system in the first place isn't out of the ballpark, when maintenance was figured in the cost of year

  • by Air-conditioned cowh ( 552882 ) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @05:11AM (#38746204)
    The first "fluid dynamics research" project is to design its own cooling system.
  • ...anyone got a 400 foot long drill bit?

  • 1) Locate nearest source of geothermally heated water
    2) run pipe from hotwater into "cooling" system water
    3) smile and give evil Muhahaha laugh as computers in building boil alive....

  • Use this massively in California, this should (long term) slightly raise the temperature (entropy) of the undergrounds, thus contributing to tectonic activity.
    • In California, that big blue thing right over there ---->>>> is the Pacific Ocean. That's a pretty good heatsink...

      • In California, the Air temperature is already pretty well linked/controlled by the water temperature. I'm not certain what could actually be accomplished there, although perhaps southern california could render some benefit.
  • So they suck up all this cool water and make it warm but then what happens to it? Presumably they dump it in the nearest river which probably won't have that much effect (although you often get unusual wildlife downstream from power stations) but don't forget they are depleting the ground water reserve. It's great to see them using less power I just hope they have fully thought through the consequences.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by egladil ( 1640419 )
      The water is in a closed loop. They pump it down into the ground to cool the water, and then back up again to cool the computers. Then it just goes down into the ground again (and again).
    • no three-eyed fish here. From what I understand, the water in the system is pumped back directly into the water table, where any so far negligible temperature difference between it and the ambient water is swiftly negated by the sheer volume of water and rock it meets. Thereafter it becomes so diluted any contaminants would be quickly absorbed by the rocks several hundred, if not thousands of feet underground never to see the light of day again. Water effluent from power stations is generally sterile and ha

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Its a closed loop that goes down deep. If its a fresh site with lots of tests, your fine.
      If your digging into a cheap "new" site with tax breaks, lots of cheap power, rail and huge roads - expect diesel and arsenic contamination.
    • by Noren ( 605012 )
      It's a closed system, not an outlet per the article. Anyhow, the nearest river is a few blocks away - the Columbia []. It's within the Hanford Site, [] but at the very last edge of it, adjacent to the town of Richland. A supercomputer's worth of heat sink there will be negligible in comparison to nuclear heat sinks just upstream. Also, depleting ground water reserves adjacent to a very large river seems unlikely.
  • Whereas my house has a downhole heat exchanger to heat up...
  • A closed-loop geothermal system would have been better for the environment. The article states a seeming impossibility: water is fed into a "closed-loop" system. If water is being fed into it, it's not a "closed-loop" system.

    Where is the heated water going? The article leaves us to speculate, and one would assume in the best case the water is injected back into the water table, but this is disruptive and stirs up the silt.

    It's much, much better to use geothermal, which is a true closed-loop system, and w

    • by Spodi ( 2259976 )
      There are a lot of different ideas going around on how this works since TFA isn't very clear. My guess is that feeding the water into the pipes once, not always. It is just your average heat transfer system done through water, though this seems to get closer to the heat-generating components (the supercomputer) rather than just cooling the room itself.
    • by swb ( 14022 )

      Don't most systems like this used a closed loop of pipe and just circulate the fluid?

      Not only does it not fuck with the groundwater, you can tweak the fluid (antifreeze, more or less) so that it can carry more heat and make the overall system more efficient.

  • If you have a consumer you don't need the closed loop.

    I used to work at a medical center that would get 'city' water at about 55 degrees, run it first to the data center, it would warm up about two degrees, and deliver 57 degree water to the rest of the complex, which is a pretty big water consumer.

    Some entrepreneur should come up with system to cool big data centers with city water, and make a way for the city to feel good about taking the returned water back into the supply pipes (some sort of safety moni

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