Thermodynamic feasibility of harvesting data center waste heat to drive an absorption chiller

Anna Haywood, Jon Sherbeck, Patrick Phelan, Georgios Varsamopoulos, Sandeep Gupta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


More than half the energy to run a data center can be consumed by vapor-compression equipment that cools the center. To reduce consumption and recycle otherwise wasted thermal energy, this paper proposes an alternative cooling architecture that is heat driven and leads to a more efficient data center in terms of power usage effectiveness (PUE). The primary thermal source is waste heat produced by CPUs on each server blade. The main challenge is capturing enough of this high-temperature heat to energize an absorption unit. The goal is to capture a high fraction of dissipated thermal power by using a heat capture scheme with water as the heat transfer fluid. To determine if the CPU temperature range and amount of heat are sufficient for chiller operation, we use server software, validation thermocouples, and chip specifications. We compare these results to required values from a simulator tool specific to our chiller model. One challenge is to simultaneously cool the data center and generate enough exergy to drive the cooling process, regardless of the thermal output of the data center equipment. We can address this by adding phase change latent heat storage to consistently deliver the required heat flow and, if necessary, a solar heat source. Even with zero solar contribution, the results show that the number of CPUs we have is sufficient and our PUE indicates a very efficient data center. Adding solar contribution, the steady-state model proposed leads to a potentially realizable PUE value of less than one.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)26-34
Number of pages9
JournalEnergy Conversion and Management
StatePublished - Jun 2012


  • Absorption chiller
  • Blade server
  • CRAC
  • Data center
  • Green computing
  • PUE

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Nuclear Energy and Engineering
  • Fuel Technology
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology


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