Two people in safety gear discuss the drilling for the groundwater cooling project

CSIRO Groundwater Cooling Project, Kensington, Perth.

Cooling supercomputers using geothermal energy

CSIRO has developed a geothermal solution for cooling the Pawsey Centre supercomputer in Perth. This innovative project is the first of its kind in Australia, and is expected to save 14.5 million litres of water in its first two years' of operation.

  • 17 August 2010 | Updated 4 April 2014

Overview

Anyone who has sat with a laptop on their knees will know that computers generate lots of heat.

The aim of CSIRO’s Groundwater Cooling Project is to provide an innovative, sustainable cooling solution for one of the largest computers in the southern hemisphere.

Rather than being cooled using conventional cooling towers, the new A$80 million Pawsey Centre supercomputer in Perth is being cooled by using a geothermal solution known as groundwater cooling.

The system is expected to save up to 14.5 million litres of water in its first two years of operation, and has the potential to revolutionise the way we cool our buildings.

How it worksA diagram representing how the groundwater cooling system works

Water of different temperatures can be extracted from underground layers of rock formations known as aquifers, and used for various thermal purposes.

While the harnessing of geothermal energy from deeper high-temperature aquifers is a well-known procedure, cooler underground water found closer to the surface can also provide useful thermal capacity.

CSIRO’s groundwater cooling system involves pumping cool water from a shallow aquifer beneath the Australian Resources Research Centre (ARRC) in Kensington, Perth, through an above-ground heat exchanger to cool the supercomputer, before reinjecting the water underground again.

Advantages for business

Overall water savings are estimated to be 14.5 million litres of water in the first two years of operation when compared with using conventional cooling towers - that’s like running a tap for three and a half years.

If deployed more widely the groundwater cooling technology has the potential to replace cooling towers in buildings right across Perth, including major facilities such as hospitals and industrial operations.

This would result in significant cost savings and reduced environmental footprint for businesses.

The challenge of cooling the new petascale computing system - which will provide expertise to support the world’s largest-ever radio telescope (the Square Kilometre Array) and other high-end science - was one of the driving forces behind the CSIRO Geothermal Project.

Research potential

A key focus for the project is educational and research benefits of the groundwater cooling system.

This includes an interactive website with the live and historical operational data available to researchers, students and the general public. 

The data includes flow rates, temperature, pH levels and more from monitoring injection and extraction wells and monitoring wells.

Access the data or to learn more about the CSIRO Groundwater Cooling Project [external link, new window].

If you are having difficulty accessing this information, please use either the contact information listed for this page or email CSIRO Enquiries within business hours. You can also request further assistance through our Accessibility webpage.