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Supercomputer Cools Off Using Groundwater

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the refreshing-drink dept.

Supercomputing 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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first (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38746132)

dipshit

how does it really work? (2)

YesIAmAScript (886271) | more than 2 years ago | (#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?

Re:how does it really work? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38746194)

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

Re:how does it really work? (4, Insightful)

will_die (586523) | more than 2 years ago | (#38746222)

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.

Re:how does it really work? (1)

tomboalogo (2509404) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747382)

Yay! Someone who understands the concept of a closed loop cooling system!! I salute you sir!
(of course the article IS badly written)

Re:how does it really work? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38757648)

Ah! That must be why the water feels warmer when someone's peeing upstream

Re:how does it really work? (4, Interesting)

beelsebob (529313) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:how does it really work? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38749154)

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

Re:how does it really work? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38751680)

Soap will cause the same problem as any other fountain. So it must be stopped, thoroughly rinsed and filled again. Algae shouldn't be a problem given a minimal quantity of chlorine is added to the water. But as the water gets hot I'm quite sure that algae could thrive if it runs out of control.

Re:how does it really work? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38746624)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EaeokJECyIs

Re:how does it really work? (4, Insightful)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#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."

Re:how does it really work? (2)

Jawnn (445279) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747650)

Et Voila': Closed loop.

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

Re:how does it really work? (1)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#38748104)

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...

Re:how does it really work? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38749270)

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 company that made salt chlorinators, and also heat pumps. They would dump the heat of the lake into your pool, thus cooling the lake ever so slightly, and making your pool warm. I kept wanting to jump up and down and go "doesn't anybody think this is a bad fucking idea????!!!!" I also never understood a warm swimming pool. I go in the water to cool off not to have it just like the outside air. I guess people swim when its cold out and want it like bathwater. But whatever - I don't work in that industry anymore.

Re:how does it really work? (1)

BattleApple (956701) | more than 2 years ago | (#38753172)

It's called thermal pollution [wikipedia.org] .. And you're right.. it certainly can cause problems.

Re:how does it really work? (2)

Synerg1y (2169962) | more than 2 years ago | (#38749814)

Ya... no...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geothermal_heat_pump [wikipedia.org]

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.

Re:how does it really work? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38751162)

It uses large heat exchange plates located in the mechanical room. Those plates are connected on one side to the "closed" loop and on the other to the loop that pulls water out of the ground and after the heat is transferred from the plate, pumps it back down into the ground.

Re:how does it really work? (1)

jimbolauski (882977) | more than 2 years ago | (#38751662)

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 the ground will have a problem with heating up the surrounding earth since unlike geothermal cooling and heating there is only hot water going into the ground and the loop would have to be massive to be able to shed the heat naturally. The aquifer should not have this problem as long as it is large enough to disperse the excess heat.

Re:how does it really work? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38759000)

It's called a heat exchanger. Thankfully this technology is well known by Nuclear Reactor Designers.

Re:how does it really work? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38766152)

dude,

The earths mantle is what is absorbing the heat as the water is pumped down from the computer deep underground, as it returns back up to the computer the earths mass, far enough removed from the sun and not close enough to the earths core to be above 50 something degrees, cools the water. geothermal cooling/heating, depending on what temerature the liquid is you are cycling.
come on guys, this is basic stuff, I expect to see these types of comments on TMZ.com or please somewhere other than this site!

eric w

Geothermal heat pumps (5, Insightful)

Solandri (704621) | more than 2 years ago | (#38746196)

When I investigated a bunch of energy-saving options for a building I was managing, geothermal heat pumps [wikipedia.org] 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 [i4at.org] 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.

Re:Geothermal heat pumps (3, Funny)

ciderbrew (1860166) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Geothermal heat pumps (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38746508)

I'd start up an Evil company and lower the water table.

But they use ground water, not table water! :-)

Captcha: buttered

Re:Geothermal heat pumps (4, Interesting)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747060)

It's already been done, price was $9M:

http://www.edwardsaquifer.net/pucek.html [edwardsaquifer.net]

Re:Geothermal heat pumps (1)

ciderbrew (1860166) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747224)

+1 Informative and funny.

Re:Geothermal heat pumps (1)

Noren (605012) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747590)

Here's an aerial photo [pnl.gov] of the lab at the top of this flier. The blue in the upper right of the picture is the Columbia River [wikipedia.org] . If you can drain all the groundwater from this particular site then I think you would have better things to do than shutting down a supercomputer. Where would you put several thousand cubic meters of water per second?

Re:Geothermal heat pumps (1)

ciderbrew (1860166) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747996)

I'm going to need a super computer to work this problem out. I could drill a really big second hole and pump the water away. This will cost more than a millions dollars. Terrorism never pays!

Re:Geothermal heat pumps (3, Informative)

squoozer (730327) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Geothermal heat pumps (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38748774)

how far would you need to drill? we had a 35m bore drilled and that was *far* more economical than burning oil - 15 years ago. (everything paid for itself in seven years)

Re:Geothermal heat pumps (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38774098)

Yeah, cause the price of gas will never go up over time. Where as the single one time cost of the install of the geotherm would go down over time. And also the Earth could change its core temperature down the road and then you are screwed.

Does anyone understand ROI and continual costs?

Re:Geothermal heat pumps (1)

geoffrobinson (109879) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747758)

I believe George W. Bush's house in Crawford uses something similar.

Re:Geothermal heat pumps (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38747964)

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.)

There are a lot of AC companies that make heat exchange units for milder climates that can work year round: heating in winter and cooling in summer. They're generally cheaper to run that separate furnaces and tradition AC units. However, most only work to about the freezing point (0C/32F).

Mitsubishi however has a unit that works down to -20C or so, which will work in most areas except for the Far North for most of the year.

Re:Geothermal heat pumps (1)

afidel (530433) | more than 2 years ago | (#38748436)

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.

Re:Geothermal heat pumps (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38757152)

It load is generally constant without changing out the hardware. The place you can get some savings is in the cooling which is why PUE is the predominant thing talked about in datacenters these days. I assume free cooling is another term for Air side econimization. That really is a great way to do it, but as you say in your post, it is often not feasible in old buildings. I run a system similar in performance to the one mentioned, but due to the building it is in, we can't do free cooling. We recently retrofitted the room for cold/hot aisle containment and it has certainly helped our efficiency. I say cold/hot containment because the room is split in half and all machines are on one plane. Not a typical room design, but it worked for us in the retrofit since it was very easy to do.

Re:Geothermal heat pumps (1)

Lando (9348) | more than 2 years ago | (#38748548)

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 yearly maintenance was more than I would have been spending on gas for the year. . I'm not sure if inspections were mandated by law or not, but if you didn't have regular maintenance on the system finding someone to come fix it when it had an issue would be even more expensive. Which is one of the reasons I decided that it wasn't time to invest in the technology for my house.

The other being that I found out 20 feet below the house granite started and drilling would have been a lot more than estimated.

First project (2)

Air-conditioned cowh (552882) | more than 2 years ago | (#38746204)

The first "fluid dynamics research" project is to design its own cooling system.

At last a solution for my Prescott box... (1)

Tastecicles (1153671) | more than 2 years ago | (#38746250)

...anyone got a 400 foot long drill bit?

How to destroy system (1)

maroberts (15852) | more than 2 years ago | (#38746256)

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....

Nice concept (1, Funny)

jupiter126 (2471462) | more than 2 years ago | (#38746306)

Use this massively in California, this should (long term) slightly raise the temperature (entropy) of the undergrounds, thus contributing to tectonic activity.

Re:Nice concept (1)

billybob_jcv (967047) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747574)

In California, that big blue thing right over there ---->>>> is the Pacific Ocean. That's a pretty good heatsink...

Re:Nice concept (1)

atrain728 (1835698) | more than 2 years ago | (#38748370)

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.

Re:Nice concept (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38749266)

Only if you are facing south. Otherwise, the pacific is over here >>> is the Atlantic, and its too far away to help.

I hope you didn't start running pipes..

What happens after though (1)

squoozer (730327) | more than 2 years ago | (#38746316)

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:What happens after though (3, Informative)

egladil (1640419) | more than 2 years ago | (#38746694)

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).

Re:What happens after though (1)

niktemadur (793971) | more than 2 years ago | (#38748804)

So it's pretty much a standard Heat Pump [wikipedia.org] , then.

Re:What happens after though (1)

rot26 (240034) | more than 2 years ago | (#38752726)

well, no. A heat pump uses enthalpy. This is less efficient but simpler.

Re:What happens after though (2)

Tastecicles (1153671) | more than 2 years ago | (#38746718)

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 has little in the way of dissolved minerals in it; it does have dissolved gases due to the nature of the cooling process, in an approximate mix of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 0.9% argon and 0.1% CO2 and trace gases.

Re:What happens after though (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38746766)

What part of "closed loop" did you not understand?

It puts heat into the groundwater, but other than that, it doesn't affect the environment during normal operation.

Re:What happens after though (1)

AHuxley (892839) | more than 2 years ago | (#38746868)

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.

Re:What happens after though (2)

Noren (605012) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747776)

It's a closed system, not an outlet per the article. Anyhow, the nearest river is a few blocks away - the Columbia [wikipedia.org] . It's within the Hanford Site, [wikipedia.org] 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.

Gathot Novin (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38746664)

useful research

It's called what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38747038)

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."

Should we trust these numbers about a computer called "Olympus?"

Last water cooled computer.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38747048)

This is so very funny since I worked on the last water cooled computer at IITRI in the late 1960's. The water was pumped from Lake Michigan, a mile in to the IITRI tower and up nearly 10 stories! It was a wonderful old Univac computer.

Downhole heat exchanger (1)

SpaghettiPattern (609814) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747560)

Whereas my house has a downhole heat exchanger to heat up...

Geothermal is better (1)

kriston (7886) | more than 2 years ago | (#38747986)

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 which does little more than transfer heat, not the water, and doesn't require the acquifer and cools down to 58 degrees, not 65 degrees.

Re:Geothermal is better (1)

Spodi (2259976) | more than 2 years ago | (#38748696)

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.

Re:Geothermal is better (1)

swb (14022) | more than 2 years ago | (#38749990)

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.

Fracking extra-benefit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38748858)

Now we know what to do with all of the fracking-polluted ground water we'll have in a few years.

GSHP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38751144)

It's called a ground source heat pump. The water is circulated in boreholes drilled deep into the subsurface. The heat is transferred from the groundwater into the surrounding geologic material. This is not new and has been used for over 100 years in HVAC systems.

Uranyl solution cooled supercomputer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38752798)

Hopefully they didn't use Hanford ground water.

Closed Loop Not Necessary (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 2 years ago | (#38770648)

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 monitoring plus cash, most likely).

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