The problem with data centres is excess heat. The problem with liquified natural gas terminals is excess cold. In a perfect world, one problem would neatly cancel out the other — which is exactly the world imagined by Massachusetts-based TeraCool. Coupling data with liquified gas could make a lot of energy sense.
You're already familiar data centres, whose constantly humming servers generate loads of extra heat. Data center operators have flocked to naturally cold places like Finland and Sweden to cut down on energy costs. But what about unnaturally cold places that just happen to have excess cold?
You're probably less familiar with liquid natural gas terminals, which receive drums of liquified natural gas and heat them to a pipeline-ready gas state. Liquified gas cooled to -162C is 600 times denser, making for efficient transportation over long distances, but it also takes a lot of heat to get it back to gas form.
Illustration via TeraCool
So that's two problems, or if you took at it another way, two solutions. TeraCool want to put data centres and LNG terminals in the same location, circulating heat through the two systems with a liquid coolant.
But the hard part is, of course, convincing these two very different industries to collaborate together. TeraCool is still looking for a data center willing to relocate next to a LNG terminal. It's not unprecedented though. "Industrial ecology" is all about looking at the flow of materials and energy through industrial systems, and the flow does not have to go only one way. Heat from data centres is already used to warm buildings. Excess cool from LNG terminals is used for industrial gasses to freeze food. Someday, data centres and LNG might live side by side. [IEEE Spectrum, Datacenter Dynamics]
Picture: A data centre in New York. AP Photo/Mark Lennihan