As governments stumble to get a firm footing in battling climate change, global industry leaders are stepping in to take the lead. In the world of power-hungry data centres, companies big and small are coming together as part of the Open Compute Project (OCP) to build consensus and paint the industry green. In collaboration, Shell and Asperitas believe they have a sustainable solution to keep your IT equipment cool: Immersing it in a specialised cooling fluid to drastically reduce energy consumption, while simultaneously harnessing waste heat energy for reuse.
Ready or not, the energy transition is coming. But maybe not the way you expect. This part of the transition isn’t coming from government regulations to try to cap emissions. Rather, it is stemming from industry leaders and technological innovators putting their heads together to lessen our carbon footprint and mitigate our collective impact. For the last two years, Shell and Netherlands-based Asperitas have been doing just that. The duo has set its crosshairs on energy-guzzling data centres that are devouring huge amounts of power and contributing largely to emissions of CO2. The solution: Immersion-based cooling of IT. In other words, sinking electronics and IT equipment into baths of a specially formulated dielectric liquid that can effectively, and very efficiently, cool the components.
A couple of years ago, while Asperitas was still in its R&D phase, the data centre cooling specialist recognised its potential to have drastic effect on the industry. It was at this time, in 2018, that the Amsterdam-based startup reached out to start first collaborations with Shell, and in the same year looked to take a leading role in shaping the immersion cooling industry by joining ranks in the Open Compute Project (OCP), a community-based foundation aimed at elevating the IT industry by sharing IP, ideas and best practices in a quest to evolve the industry. The idea being that through shared experiences and collaboration, the group could establish new hardware designs that are optimised and tailored to specific needs, offering end users high efficiency and scalability. Almost two years ago OCP launched the Advanced Cooling Solutions (ACS) initiative within the Rack & Power work group, where Rolf Brink, founder and CEO of Asperitas, became the project leader for the immersion-cooling pillar of the initiative.
According to Mr Brink, there wasn’t much consensus within immersion cooling, as there was no common frame of reference, and requirements within the realm were non-existent. In his role at ACS, however, he got the opportunity to work with a community of global industry leaders that together discussed and formulated projects to help the industry move forward.
“Up to this point, the dunk and pray strategy was the most common practice in the domain. People would go buy an off-the-shelf server, make some small modifications through the thermal interface material on the CPU and then dunk it in the liquid and hope it kept working,” laughs Brink. “But eventually, through collaborative efforts, we were able to publish a white paper on the minimum requirements for immersion cooling. For the first time, we had established a basic frame of reference for the domain, and we had a good starting point.”
Soon after, the ACS group kicked off a new project focused on liquid compatibility. “There are two main families of liquids that can be optimised for the immersion cooling sector, hydrocarbons and fluorocarbons. OEMs and superscalers don’t have the expertise, the time, or the interest to go and test hundreds of different liquids and setups to see if it was a viable option.
Asperitas has really been pushing to make a name for itself and shed light on the new possibilities in the data centre cooling market. For a few years now, the scale-up has been at the cusp of breaking in and drastically disrupting the industry with its technology. Now it seems they’ve caught the attention of the industry, from OEMs to integrators and even leading enterprises like telecommunication specialists and hyperscale cloud providers. Not only have they been named one of the energy sector’s top global innovations of the decade by the World Economic Forum, but recently, OCP officially recognised the Asperitas’ Open Cassette as an OCP Accepted Product Accessory, a real milestone for the company.
The system, which requires little more than a standard power outlet and a water line for operation, stores the IT deep into a fluid bath, all contained within its own housing. The IT equipment is then cooled through the process of natural convection where the liquid can absorb up to 1500 times the heat energy compared to more traditional air-cooling solutions, potentially slashing the energy footprint of data centres in half. More interesting yet is the fact that nearly all the waste heat energy is captured in the liquid and can be transferred and reused – making it an even more sustainable option.
Shell immersion cooling fluid based on GTL technology
For its part in the collaboration, Shell has taken on the responsibility of engineering the specialised fluid used in the immersion cooling process. Shell Immersion Cooling Fluid S5 X is a synthetic, single-phase fluid developed specifically for immersion cooled data servers. The fluid uses Shell’s unique gas-to-liquids technology and has been optimised for Asperitas’ natural-convection-driven immersion cooling servers but can also be used in servers with pumps.
The fluid is designed to reduce energy costs and emissions through its high cooling efficiency, excellent flow behaviour and thermodynamic properties. Shell Immersion Cooling Fluid S5 X is compatible with most commonly used server materials and being non-corrosive and virtually free from sulphur, nitrogen and aromatics ensures high server reliability and lifetime.