Cargill announces plant-based data centre cooling fluid

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US food company Cargill has announced a plant-based immersion cooling fluid for data centres. It is NatureCool 2000, which is more than 90% vegetable oil and is priced similarly to most single-phase synthetic fluids, according to the manufacturer. In addition, it is biodegradable in less than 10 days in case of spillage – superior performance when compared to mineral oils (only 40% are biodegradable) and synthetics. It is also non-toxic to humans, soil or water.

Other figures account for NatureCool 2000’s characteristics compared to its cooling peers – it offers over 1000 times the air cooling capacity; consumes up to 60% less energy required for cooling and features 10% more heat dissipation compared to synthetic products. The product also meets safety standards, with a high flash point of 325°C and, unlike some other synthetic immersion fluids, is not capable of self-igniting because its flames go out after the heat source is removed. This translates into lower fire risks and lower cost of insurance policies.

Immersion cooling is being adopted in IT environments over conventional air-cooled systems because it offers a safe and sustainable solution. According to Cargill, because immersion cooling takes up much less space than conventional air-cooled systems, capital expenditure (CAPEX) can be up to 35% less, due to the costs associated with infrastructure to house large air-conditioning units and chillers. In addition, higher cooling efficiency means lower energy consumption, which can result in reduced operating expenses (OPEX) of between 40% and 60%. This combined with reduced maintenance costs due to lower wear and tear on moving parts of immersion chiller systems, the total cost of ownership (TCO) can achieve savings of up to 40%.

And that’s not to mention the lower carbon dioxide emissions. According to Cargill, the fluid is CO2 neutral with zero global warming potential. This feature can help businesses meet their sustainability goals. Plus, immersion cooling can become a heat source for other nearby facilities.

“Immersion cooling is the new technological frontier enabling the development of more efficient, high-performance systems that also help make the IT sector more sustainable,” Kurtis Miller, director of Cargill’s bio-industrial business, told the FeedStuffs website. “In the last 10 years alone, energy use by data centres has increased from hundreds of kilowatts to hundreds of megawatts, an increase of more than a thousand times. And with processor density growing and the volume of data generated keeping pace, we need to find more efficient and sustainable ways to ensure the operation of these complex systems.”

According to the website, Canada-based Mindful Energy Solutions is using NatureCool 2000 fluid in data mining tanks at large agricultural, greenhouse and industrial facilities. In addition to cooling the data processing equipment, the thermal energy stored in the fluid is recycled as a source to heat these facilities for nine months a year.

Immersion cooling scenario

In the view of Peter Judge, the editor of the DatacenterDynamics website who has been following the world of data centres for many years, liquid cooling has been touted as a great solution that everyone will soon use for high power density cases.

At the same time, he has seen many environments still air-cooled and with no intention of adopting another route. Evidence of this scenario was pointed out by the Uptime Institute – 83% of IT operators do not use direct liquid cooling.

Uptime Institute Intelligence Research

For Judge, the industry is conservative and, as good as it is, data centre operators will not adopt liquid cooling until they have to.  However, he makes a few observations. Firstly, it is always worth mentioning that liquid cooling is somewhat commonplace among high-performance computing (HPC) facilities. Similarly, hyperscalers should also embrace the solution when the situation demands it.

Secondly, there have been some announcements signalling increased interest. Such is the case with the investment in a liquid cooling company for data centres called GRC (Green Revolution Cooling) that received a $28m funding round, coming mainly from South Korea’s SK Lubricants, a petrochemical company interested in gaining some green credibility. Another initiative comes from Inspur, a Chinese IT conglomerate focused on cloud computing, big data and other areas, which announced immersion-cooled servers manufactured for Chinese giant JD Cloud. In other words, Inspur also believes liquid cooling is turning into a larger market.

At some point, regulations may force data centres to be more energy efficient, and it will be then that immersion cooling can show its true colours.

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