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Cooling Off: Ebullient’s heat-seeking mission impresses Silicon Valley

The Ebullient team includes (left to right) Brett Lindeman, Steve Meives, Mike Major, Jack Heinemann, and Tim Shedd, who said, “We’ve received great validation from many engineers, data-center owners, and data-center operators from the Midwest to Silicon Valley.”

The Ebullient team includes (left to right) Brett Lindeman, Steve Meives, Mike Major, Jack Heinemann, and Tim Shedd, who said, “We’ve received great validation from many engineers, data-center owners, and data-center operators from the Midwest to Silicon Valley.”

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From the pages of In Business magazine.

According to Emerson Power Networks (EPN), in 2013, the world created 1.9 trillion gigabytes of data, equivalent to every person on earth having 16 iPhones.

None of it would have been possible without data centers that house the servers necessary to power the data, yet the amount of energy required to keep the world communicating is both mind-blowing and growing.

In 2011, EPN reported that there were 501,147 data centers operating worldwide on the equivalent of 5,955 football fields of real estate. Huge companies, such as Google or Yahoo, own acres of data-center space and consume as much energy as a large city, explained Mike Major, COO of Ebullient Cooling in Madison.  

“The 5G network will potentially be cooled by our system, or at least a significant part of it. It’s pretty exciting.” — Mike Major, COO, Ebullient Cooling

A typical data center can have as few as two racks or as many as 10,000 racks, each holding between 10 and 20 servers. At issue is the heat those computers generate. If servers get too warm, they slow down, or stop functioning altogether. “That heat needs to be removed,” Major said. “Two to three percent of all the electricity used in the country is used to cool data centers.” Some companies have moved data centers to cooler climates, such as Iceland, as a way to circumvent high air-conditioning costs.

Major; Tim Shedd, an engineering professor at UW-Madison and CEO/president of Ebullient LLC; and a staff of engineers have developed a flexible, two-phase cooling system with applications for data centers and power electronic thermal management.

With energy consumption in data centers getting “out of hand,” Shedd has dedicated the past 12 years to developing a system that reduces energy consumption for data-center cooling by more than 90%, at a fraction of the cost of current methods.

Rather than cool the air in a data center with large, often room-sized air-conditioning units that waste enormous amounts of energy cooling the air rather than the devices — or cooling with water-glycol or oil immersion, two existing methods that each have inherent problems — Ebullient’s cooling system absorbs heat directly from sources within a server into a low-pressure refrigerant.

“We capture energy by boiling or vaporizing, rather than by warming the liquid fluid [oil or water], which is considered state-of-the-art today,” Major explained. The system uses small, flexible tubing that drastically cuts or eliminates completely the amount of space needed for air conditioners.

“We can cool a data center of any size on the hottest day ever recorded in Death Valley, without an air conditioner,” he stated.

(Continued)

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