Water cooling has been used over several decades in various applications, from steam power stations and internal combustion engines to powerful transmitters. More recently, data centres have utilised water cooling in their facilities as it is much more efficient than air cooling when it comes to regulating the temperature of digital equipment.
Data centre managers, however, are becoming increasingly concerned by the use of water in cooling systems, particularly in the Southern Hemisphere where water is becoming a scarcer resource. Data centres use huge amounts of water to cool the vast numbers of server racks installed at their facilities, while attempts at being able to recycle and reuse the same water multiple times require the use of bromine and other hazardous chemicals in filtration processes.
Given the scrutiny placed upon the data centre industry in terms of its water usage, companies are beginning to develop more efficient solutions to IT cooling.
Vortex process technology
H2OVortex is one such company, which has developed a water treatment technology with the potential to reduce water consumption at the same time as increasing energy efficiency.
Water flows through their Vortex Process Technology (VPT) and is subject to a chemical-free treatment process which helps prevent and reduce calcium and limescale deposits – the main cause of high maintenance costs on installations and machinery which come in contact with water.
The ‘blue box’, between six and 12 metres in diameter, is fixed to the side of the water-cooling tower. An Industrial Vortex Generator (IVG) sits inside this container, and water is passed from the tower to the container, where the filtration process occurs 24/7 in a non-intrusive way. Because of its simple design and application, the VPT can be retrofit with any water-based cooling tower, making it brand agnostic.
“VPT technology is a platform which promotes biomimicry,” says Alain Mestat, managing partner at H2OVortex. Biomimicry, he explains, is the concept of copying nature-based solutions. VPT recreates an artificial vortex in a confined and controlled environment, which is then used to further industrial solutions.
“The VPT is a platform, as we have developed several vertical applications. One of those is the IVG. This reproduces an artificial vortex, or tornado, inside a confined element. The water goes through that element, and we change or treat it in a way which allows us to provide the added the benefits.”
Benefits of vortex biomimicry
There are several benefits which can be gained from utilising biomimicry in water filtration technology. Firstly, water consumption can be decreased by up to 50 per cent, which increases the cycle of concentration (COC) enormously – from 2.53 to seven or more. Energy usage is also decreased by between six and eight per cent.
These savings were confirmed by an independent study by the Southern California Edison energy company, which ran a field test on cooling towers using VPT technology. The report points out that by increasing the COC by just 1.5, 350 million gallons of water could be saved in California in just three years – an important saving in an area well known to be water-poor and drought stricken during the hot summer months especially.
Secondly, chemical usage is reduced. A cooling tower can be run with a COC above seven or eight without using any type of chemical, which improves maintenance time and reduces the operating costs.
Typically, data centres subject used water to intense chemical filtration and disinfection processes before reusing the same water in their cooling mechanism. This water can be used two or three times before it is necessary to let it run off or perform a blowdown to replace a fault. Even advanced filtration systems, like reverse osmosis, can only reuse the water up to six times before it needs to be replaced, and it still uses a lot of chemicals.
“This is obviously not the most sustainable way of cleaning water, because you have about 50 per cent of the waste in water which is coming in,” says Mestat. “So, if you put in one litre, half a litre is going to waste, and the other half goes into the tower.
“For a large, hyperscale data centre, that can apply to anything from 60 cubic metres to hundreds of cubic metres of water, and this is happening several times a day.”
Finally, with carbon emissions of great concern in the data centre industry at present, it is worth noting that the lack of chemical usage in water disinfection and filtration using a vortex biomimicry system reduces the CO2 footprint by eliminating the creation of chemicals, and then the transportation of use of them.
The future of water cooling in data centres
Data centre managers are starting to become more aware of the possibilities presented by vortex technology. In partnership with Pathema BV, a Dutch water treatment technology company, H2OVortex have made positive inroads in the Dutch data centre market.
To accompany their portfolio of six Dutch data centre optimisation projects, they have also finalised a project which has seen them optimise the largest data centre in the Netherlands, which is situated close to Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. The data centre’s water consumption was reduced by as much as 75 per cent, and they were able to eliminate 100 per cent of their chemical usage.
Data centres will become more prevalent as society moves further towards digitisation. Finding a balance between the needs of a digital society and being able to provide enough water for humanity to continue to thrive, will become essential.
“At some point, you are going to have a cut of the lines,” concludes Mestat. “That is where we feel that we add tremendous value in terms of making sure that we can accompany the ongoing development of data centre solutions, while making sure that sustainability is a key element in their development.”