3M Demos New Immersion Cooling Technique

This “porthole” serves as a window into a new immersion cooling technology from 3M, known as open bath immersion cooling. (Image: Rich Miller)

At last week’s Data Center World conference, 3M demonstrated a data center cooling concept called “open bath immersion cooling,” which it says is simpler and less expensive to implement than other pumped liquid cooling techniques. The system is an example of passive two-phase cooling, which uses a boiling liquid to remove heat from a surface and then condenses the liquid for reuse, all without a pump. The servers are immersed in 3M’s Novec, a non-conductive chemical with a very low boiling point, which easily condenses from gas back to liquid. Each processor is capped with a copper plate coated with a material that enhances boiling, improving the efficiency of the heat transfer. The vapor generated by the boiling Novec rises to a condenser integrated into the tank and cooled by waters, and then condenses back to liquid for reuse. In this video, 3M Appplication Specialist Phil Tuma provides an overview of the system and its capabilities, which will be of particular interest to users contemplating extreme power densities.

The 3M system is known as “open bath” immersion because the chamber can be opened so that components can be replaced. This differentiates it from two-phase cooling systems used in other industrial systems, in which the liquid chamber is often sealed.

The 3M technology offers an additional approach to immersion cooling, which has gained interest along with the growth of high performance computing and supercomputing, which entail density that can exceed the capacity of traditional air cooling. For more coverage of this trend, see our stories about technologies from IntelGreen RevolutionIceotope and LiquidCool.

3M has a lengthy history in liquid cooling, including immersion systems for industrial equipment cooling dating to the 1940s, Tuma notes. Computer enthusiasts may be familiar with the use of 3M’s Flourinert liquid coolant in the early Cray supercomputers.

For more information, check out the project’s YouTube channel.

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About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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  1. Leave it to a commercial outfit to devise something complicated and expensive. For years, people have been using mineral oil immersion for cooking with very good results. It is also an open system and replacing components is very simple, although sometimes messy. Even normal cooking fans can me immersed to circulate the oil, although normal convection seems to work well in all but extreme cases such as overclocking CPUs and GPU units. Another advantage of the mineral oil cooling is components are protected from corrosion. This is important if you are in a humid area, such as near the ocean.

  2. Eric Randers

    First off let me say that I don't work for 3M but I have seen this first had and do work in a large data center. Mineral oil may work well in your garage over-clocking attempts but it has no place in a data center because it can't dissipate the heat load of purposeful build high density computer clusters. From what I understand Novek fluid only needs 3mm of fluid overlay to fully cool high heat load components . Novek fluid is inert so corrosion is a non-issue. They key is in low temperature phase change, the amount of energy to get matter to change from a liquid to a gas is not on a linear scale...

  3. mrhaze

    3M (and others) have a range of electrically inert fluids used in teh semiconductor industry for testing of various sorts - in temps ranging from -55ºC up to over 200ºC. Some variants also widely used in wafer fab cooling equipment. I've sold the stuff for years :)

  4. Mike Ross

    Typo: 3M's Cray-2 coolant should be spelled "Fluorinert".

  5. Darryl

    when it turns to gas it condenses back to liquid but what will happen with the air around it it contains water vapor too and if it condenses the water will mix with novec