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

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.



The Ebullient system cools with a non-conductive refrigerant, so there’s no risk of shorting or server damage, unlike with water-glycol-based systems. As a result, each heat source (e.g., computer chip, processor, CPU) is maintained to within plus-or-minus 1.5 degrees Celsius in an industry where plus-or-minus 10 degrees Celsius is considered great.

Ebullient (Greek for “boiling”) actually launched two years ago, but the business didn’t really take off until this past summer when Shedd and Major loaded their prototype into an SUV and drove 35 hours across the country to present the technology to thermal management experts at “really big companies” in Silicon Valley, all of which were impressed. A representative from one major company asked Ebullient to retrofit its hardware to “prove” the technology, which is happening now. “The 5G network will potentially be cooled by our system, or at least a significant part of it,” Major predicts. “It’s pretty exciting.”

But the company’s technology is also suitable for small companies with more than 10 kilowatts of computing that might house servers in closets that they can’t cool. “Without any additional facility investment, we can cool [the spaces] and pull the heat out,” Major said. Removed heat can also be redirected into an HVAC system or used to heat domestic water.

Ebullient is currently in a funding round with hopes of generating between $600,000 and $900,000 in convertible debt. A Series A round is on the docket for next year.

The company’s technology, Shedd insists, will “make a dent in society’s energy usage and environmental footprint. I also believe that Ebullient’s systems will enable innovations in everything from computer design to medical equipment to electric vehicles by freeing up engineers to focus on design and not have to worry about getting rid of the heat their designs might generate.”

Ebullient LLC
100 S. Baldwin St. #200
Madison, WI 53703

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