Water is key to life, but it also runs a lot of businesses. You might not see water behind your computer screen or dripping from the information you access every day, but it is virtually gushing behind the Internet and computer networks. Computers need to be kept cool to function. Water is 4 to 5 times more energy efficient than air for cooling computers, so it’s the standard for today’s data center operations.
That computer and Internet giants fear water shortages was underlined recently when Google filed and received a patent for floating data centers—essentially a means of immersing an entire computer operations into a source of cooling water. These off-shore stations use tidal energy and seawater for cooling.
Google’s Floating Data CenterHigh-tech companies spend significant sums to cool their operations. Most cooling systems will not find refuge in the sea: Cooling calls for more innovation. With Internet operations worldwide expanding 100% every 3 months, many high-tech firms will seek onsite water solutions—or move their operations to the world’s wettest and coolest locales.
In North America, cooling systems use enough electricity and water to light 23 million households, and enough water to supply 18 million households with water each year.
Most operations use cooling towers for water-based cooling. These use massive volumes of water in 2 ways: First, cooling towers evaporate pure water to remove heat from the system. What’s left after evaporation is “a precipitate” concentrate of minerals, dirt, and chemicals that can form an insulating barrier and gum up the works. It must be washed off periodically, usually with more water. Second, fresh water is added continually to dilute the cooling water’s mineral content and other dissolved solids. This is called “make-up water.”
Tomorrow: New developments in mainstream cooling water treatment technology.