Hot news: Campus spin-off keeps computers cool

Posted on 27. Sep, 2013 by in Academic Departments, Issues, Mechanical Engineering, Research, Summer: Annual Report

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Custom 3D-printed components are key in Ebullient’s system. Photo: Scott Gordon.

For about a decade, Mechanical Engineering Associate Professor Timothy Shedd has been exploring liquid-based cooling systems for data centers to address a simple but very costly problem. “Technology is developing faster than the air-conditioning systems that cool computers,” he says.

Shedd also is chief technology officer of Ebullient, a company that hopes to install its first commercial liquid-based cooling system in 2013. “We can save about 80 percent of the energy costs for cooling a state-of-the-art system,” Shedd says.

Granted, other researchers know that liquid-based systems can help data centers save significantly on energy costs and various commercial ventures are working to make it commonplace. But Shedd is the first to develop a system that takes advantage of the efficiency of boiling, while being compact, able to cool many devices in series, and available at a cost that is competitive with traditional air-cooling technologies.

Ebullient uses an environmentally safe dielectric fluid that evaporates and then re-condenses as it flows through processing units.
The idea evolved from long-term research project-to-business idea in late 2011, when Shedd and his students began experimenting with 3-D printers in the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery. The printers allowed Shedd to create components optimized for the system. “Without them, I probably never would have thought of starting a company,” Shedd says.

The project also has advanced with help of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and an Innovation and Economic Development grant from the UW-Madison Graduate School.
In summer 2013, Shedd and graduate students Brett Lindeman and Robert Buchanan installed a prototype Ebullient system on a bank of about 20 computers in Engineering Hall. Shedd says this alone will save UW-Madison about $2,500 per year in cooling costs.

Ebullient’s ideal first clients will be companies that run small- to mid-size data centers. “These could be medical-records companies, video-delivery companies, large law firms, hospitals, and universities, obviously,” Shedd says.

He’s hoping Wisconsin and northern Illinois will provide Ebullient’s first clients and investors. “We’re looking at investors who are interested in investing in Wisconsin—in people as much as the technology,” he says.

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