Computer Chips Could Heat Your Home

In some parts of the world, more than 60% of a home's energy bill goes toward heating. In an effort to reduce some of that expense - and solve a problem of their own at the same time - researchers at IBM in Switzerland are hoping to put computers to the rescue.

Telecommunications equipment in one corner of a small data center.: Credit: Gregory Maxwell.Telecommunications equipment in one corner of a small data center.: Credit: Gregory Maxwell.

The engineers have developed a system that harvests the waste heat from computer chips in large data centers for use in domestic heating. The system would be able to recover up to 75% of the energy that computers use. For a data center that consumes 1 megawatt of electricity, the amount salvaged could heat about 70 homes.

According to, there are 427 data centers interspersed throughout the US, with most of them centered around major cities and areas of dense population. But because data centers get so hot, the buildings are often left half-empty to avoid potential "meltdowns."

IBM's key technology is a microfluidic heat sink that is used to cool the computers. Since about half the energy a data center consumes goes toward keeping the computers cool, this heat sink has a large potential for reducing energy costs.

In the system, a thin layer of water flows next to the microchips and computer's electronic components, becomes very hot, and quickly flows away, taking the heat with it. The chips always have a thin layer of water continuously flowing around them, keeping them cool and removing their heat.

As the water leaves the chips through microchannels, it comes to a heat exchanger, which can transform the water's heat for domestic heating purposes.

The water cooling scheme is different than today's cooling schemes, which generally use air instead of water (and are very noisy). But because water conducts heat 4,000 times better than air, many researchers are investigating water cooling systems.

With the heat exchange technology, researchers could create solutions for two problems simultaneously - computer cooling and domestic heating. Over the next five years, they hope to continue to improve the system's efficiency.

via: New Scientist