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IBM Research and Industrial Partners are Working on More Cost-Effective Heating and Cooling Pumps

THRIVE team, Patrick Ruch
THRIVE team scientists Jens Ammann and Patrick Ruch use Dynamic Vapor Sorption, a gravimetric technique that measures adsorption. The image at right is a coated adsorber heat exchanger under development in collaboration with IBM Research—Zurich.

Waste heat is seemingly everywhere, whether from factories, power stations or data centers. Even desktop computers are guilty of it. But what if that byproduct could be harnessed and made viable for both heating and cooling purposes—helping reduce the world’s reliance on fossil fuels?

That’s the notion behind the THRIVE project, a joint effort backed by IBM Research and a variety of industrial partners, including the Demark-based Danfoss. Together, they’re working on heat pumps that use little to no electricity employing a process similar to the use of silica gel desiccant packs to remove moisture in leather and electronic goods.

According to IBM researcher Patrick Ruch and application specialist Oddgeir Gudmundsson with Danfoss, the widespread use of this type of technology—both in the data center and in other applications—could reduce heating and cooling electrical demands in buildings by 65 percent and the use of fossil fuels by 18 percent by 2040—sometimes in a form factor no larger than the average washing machine.

IBM Systems Magazine: Just to give us some context, what are your respective roles in the THRIVE project?
Patrick Ruch:
I’ve been involved in exploring new technologies that will help improve future energy efficiencies in data centers and computing technologies. One of the promising future technologies is an adsorption heat pump developed as part of the THRIVE project.
Oddgeir Gudmundsson: I work for Danfoss in the heating segment. We focus on district energy and residential heating. I work as an application specialist focusing on the whole business area and provide Danfoss with internal and external consultant services. Part of our focus is on energy-efficient utilization of renewable energy. I’m part of the THRIVE project as an industrial partner.

ISM: What are the goals of the THRIVE project?
PR:
Well, water-cooling approaches enable heat removal from servers very effectively and, in fact, for enhanced heat-removal technology, you can actually even remove the server heat using warm water.

This is very interesting because you don’t have to produce chilled water to cool the servers. You can just cool them with warm water and basically perform free cooling, which is a very cost-effective way of keeping servers cool. The server heat actually has value, so there are applications that can use such heat and also people who will pay for that heat. For example, you are able to heat nearby offices and thereby displace the use of fossil fuels for heating. 

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at jjutsler@provide.net.



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