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Ice balls save data centre energy costs

The I/O Data Center in Phoenix, US is using ‘ice balls’ to cool its 180,000-square-foot server rooms, reports PC World.

The Ice Ball Thermal Storage system from San Diego-based Cryogel uses water-filled, dimpled plastic spheres floating in four tanks filled with a glycol solution chilled to 22 degrees. The solution is pumped from chillers that surround hundreds of balls, freezing them during the night when electricity rates are lower. During the day, the system pumps the glycol solution through a heat exchanger, which provides cool air to the data center, reducing the need to run the chillers during the day.

The system doesn’t save any energy. but it does save money, by shifting electricity usage from daytime to nighttime, when less fossil fuel is burned.

According to KC Mares, president of data centre designer MegaWatt Consulting cooling solutions need for such energy intensive applications need to come from outside the mainstream. “There are limits to what you can do with cooling technologies such as economisers and evaporative coolers, which rely on outside air, in an environment where temperatures can hit 40 deg C or more in the summer. At the end of the day, despite using such energy-saving technologies, you pay a lot for cooling infrastructure.”

Thermal storage systems built using Cryogel’s ice balls cost about £40 per ton-hour of cooling, with a return on investment within three to five years, the firm says.

Instead, the big obstacle is the fact that the system requires giant containers — either pressure vessels or atmospheric tanks — to hold the ice balls in the appropriate solution. And that requires a lot of space, which is at a premium for most data centres.

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