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IBM: Data Centers Could Cool Themselves With Their Own Waste Heat

In the future, data centers may have a unique and infinitely renewable cooling source: heat.

A new three-year research project from IBM, known as Thrive, is aiming to figure out how to convert “waste heat” generated by churning data centers into cool air. If this novel recycling program works, the centers, which use tremendous amounts of energy, will become far more efficient.

Thrive’s main aim is to build a heat pump that’s powered by this waste heat. Rather than using traditional heat pumps, like those in heating, ventilation, or air conditioning units, an IBM team in Switzerland is looking at building what it calls an adsorption heat pump, a low-energy consumption system that employs a heat exchanger that will utilize heat at up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit as an energy source instead of electricity.

During the adsorption process, the heat exchanger takes vapor from an evaporator system and compresses it, releasing heat. A refrigerant–which can be pure water–brought into the system beforehand is then forced out of the heat exchanger by the driving heat from an external source. “The hot vapor released as a result turns back into a liquid in the condenser,” IBM wrote in a release, “and the corresponding condensation heat is released into the heating cycle. The adsorption heat pump can also be used to heat and cool.”

For this system to work as designed, data centers would need to run adsorption heat exchangers running in parallel.

IBM believes that this process can reduce the electricity demand for heating or cooling by as much as 65%, and the consumption of fossil fuels for heat by as much as 18% by 2040.

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