Did you know it’s possible to warm your house up just by browsing the internet, tweeting, or streaming movies on your device? That’s the claim behind Project Exergy, a Kickstarter-funded campaign for a new gadget to convert the waste heat generated by computer servers into heat that can warm your place up. The project’s current prototype, codenamed Henry, uses processors (used as a server for your laptop, tablet and other digital devices) to operate six graphics cards at a temperature of 93 °C. Oil in coils around the chips absorbs waste heat, which is then transferred to water in adjacent pipes. The water collects in a reservoir that can be connected to a home's hot water tank. “We envisage a future where we are building computation into everything that requires heat,” Lawrence Orsini, New York-based entrepreneur behind the project, tells Metro.
Where did the idea for Project Exergy come from?
I built my first liquid cooled computer when I lived in a loft in San Francisco in 2006. I used it as a media machine - streaming video, playing DVDs and running the stereo – and when it got too cold in the room I ran programs that made the computer run hard and make heat. It made a lot of heat, but more importantly it showed just how much heat could be concentrated in the liquid. Then, I bought a house in 2009 with no central heating system, built a computer room in the center of the house and installed a hydronic floor heating system that could use water heat from the computer to warm the floor. The computer we’ve designed to do that was ‘Henry’. Now, with the Kickstarter campaign, I am looking for funds for ‘DareHenry’, the next level gadget that can be produced on mass.
And how does Henry operate to warm a house?
The computer uses high-performance processors to compute data and has a liquid cooling loop that circulates a coolant through the hottest parts of the computer to extract the heat. This heat is stored in a thermal tank that the computer sits on, which acts as a reservoir to hold the heat produced while it is running, and can then be used to power your hot water or furnace systems.
Can this concept work with all computers?
Computers create a lot of heat and the world is doing more computing every day. The harder a computer works, the more heat it will produce, but right now all of that is wasted energy. Worse still, we put even more energy into air conditioning to cool them down. What we aim is to turn that on its head by creating computers that deliberately run hot and use liquid cooling to efficiently transfer that heat into a boiler-like tank to heat anything that needs heating.
The heating benefit is clear, but what about the computing side?
Already, there are about 3 million data centers in the U.S. alone, amounting to about one data center per 100 people and this is expected to continue to grow as more computing applications for large and small companies are moved to cloud computing facilities. Yet the businesses that need data crunched are generally in populated areas. Some 14 percent of the energy used in cloud computing is consumed in transporting data back and forth across the internet. Instead we can spread the work of the data centers to places closer to where the processing is needed. This will reduce the costs and eventually the time it takes to transfer data while improve the redundancy, security and efficiency of computing.
So, what is the next phase of the plan?
Our next prototypes will be paired with modular thermal storage tanks that are filled with an organic phase change material that stores significant heat in a much smaller space. Using thermal storage gives us the ability to create heat through computation when electricity costs are lowest make it more economically beneficial.
This is energy optimisation Why is it so important?
Heating and air conditioning are the largest combined uses of energy in most buildings. According to the U.S. Department of Energy up to 3% of U.S. electricity is used in data centers; Amazon reports that up to 50% of that electricity is used just to cool data centers. If we distributed the computing done in data centers to buildings where we actually need heat, we could get two benefits from the energy we are already using to heat our buildings (computation and heat) while eliminating up to 50% of the energy wasted air conditioning data centers today.