A heater that calculates: Will computers soon be heating your home?

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Computing power requirements are constantly increasing. And with them the residual heat. A research project is trying to find out how this could be used as efficiently as possible for heating and how waste heat would be the least harmful to the environment.

This data center, located in Empa’s NEST research building, not only calculates, it also heats the building using waste heat.

Empa

Imagine the following scenario: In the basement of your house is a small computing center – a dozen servers, all no bigger than your oil heating. At your neighbor’s as in other buildings in the neighborhood, there is the same installation. The servers are running at full speed, receiving and delivering data. Heat is released.

Change of scenery. With object connectivity, autonomous driving, blockchain, artificial intelligence, computing power requirements are increasing disproportionately around the world. However, computing power rhymes with electricity and heat consumption. The chips can indeed reach a temperature of 100 degrees; they must therefore be cooled and their heat removed.

In most cases today, the heat evaporates into the air – and warms the climate even further. Why not use it? For example to heat a house and the hot water used there at the same time? Or even an entire neighborhood? A utopia? Not at all, since a first pilot project Already exists.

Enough to heat a small building

But many questions remain. This is what the project is about.ECO-Qube”, which we owe to the Empa Research Institute, in Dübendorf (ZH), in collaboration with a European research team. Three sites on the Old Continent are home to so-called “edge data centers” – small local computing centers, like the ones you might one day have in your basement. One of them is in Turkey, the other in the Netherlands and the third in the building ofNEST innovationin Dubendorf.

These three data centers are directly integrated into the energy systems of the surrounding neighborhoods and must be powered, as much as possible, by renewable energies. The goal: to combine hardware and software components using artificial intelligence in such a way that energy and waste heat are used as efficiently as possible.

“An ‘edge data center’ produces around 20 kW of thermal power,” explains Philipp Heer, head of Empa’s Energy Hub. With the help of a heat exchanger, this would be enough to heat a small apartment building. “From the servers, you can get heat up to 60 degrees,” he notes. The only condition: the servers must be operated and cooled intelligently.

A data center like the one in the NEST building is the size of an oil heater and could one day replace it.

A data center like the one in the NEST building is the size of an oil heater and could one day replace it.

Empa

Seasonal storage problem

“However, heat is not always used where it is produced,” he points out. Or the data center is down.” It is for this reason that buildings and data centers must communicate with each other using appropriate technologies. “It’s not just about getting the greatest benefit for the energy system, but also the least damage to the environment,” stresses Philipp Heer. What to do, for example, with waste heat in summer? One solution would be thermal storage. “However, the problem of seasonal energy storage has not yet been resolved,” laments the specialist.

Maybe “ECO-Qube” will provide solutions. The project, which will take place over three years, is supported by the European Union’s “Horizon 2020” funding programme. The results of this research will then be made available to planners and building operators. Who knows, maybe one day we will live in a house heated with the help of data processing.

We would like to give thanks to the writer of this short article for this incredible material

A heater that calculates: Will computers soon be heating your home?


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