CSIRO applies its rock physics capability to develop geothermal technologies.
Cooling supercomputers using geothermal energy
A new demonstration plant will use geothermal energy to provide cooling to a high performance supercomputer.
17 August 2010 | Updated 14 October 2011
Geothermal energy has the potential to provide Australia with a low-emissions renewable energy resource that can cater for base-load electricity generation and direct-heat applications.
The Pawsey geothermal supercomputer cooling project will use geothermal energy to provide cooling to the Pawsey Centre's supercomputers.
To help demonstrate the commercial viability of geothermal energy in Australia, CSIRO, through the Western Australian Geothermal Centre of Excellence (WAGCOE), is working on demonstration and technical projects using the geothermal resources in the Perth Basin, Western Australia.
The Pawsey geothermal supercomputing project
In June 2010, CSIRO received funding from the Australian Government's Education Investment Fund to develop a direct-heat geothermal demonstration site.
The Pawsey geothermal supercomputer cooling project will use geothermal energy to provide cooling to the Pawsey High-Performance Computing Centre, and cooling and heating to the co-located CSIRO facility, the Australian Resources Research Centre (ARRC) in Perth.
The Pawsey Centre supports the enormous data requirements for deep space research.
The Pawsey High Performance Computer cooling demonstrator will use geothermal energy from sedimentary aquifers under the Perth Basin.
The Centre runs energy intensive supercomputers and is part of the infrastructure of Australia and New Zealand’s bid to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope [external link].
The development will use geothermal energy from hot sedimentary aquifers (HSAs) and could demonstrate the possibility for widespread use of HSAs to heat and cool facilities.
Hot sedimentary aquifers (HSAs)
HSAs are aquifers in sedimentary basins that contain hot water - the deeper below the ground the hotter the ground water in the aquifer.
The Pawsey High Performance Computer cooling demonstrator will use geothermal energy from a HSA under the Perth Basin.
Through WAGCOE, CSIRO has been conducting research to confirm the geothermal potential of the aquifer below Perth.
CSIRO estimates that the aquifer's water temperature is sufficient for its planned purposes at a target depth of 3 km. This is based on modelling results and data sourced from relogging a number of bores in the Perth metropolitan area, including bores adjacent to the ARRC site.
These initial results indicate that abundant thermal energy exists in the aquifer to support the operation of the site's geothermal infrastructure for a number of years.
The Pawsey high performance computer cooling demonstrator
The cooling demonstrator (pictured right) will be designed to enable hot water from the aquifer to be pumped out through an extraction well.
Some heat from the ground water will be removed, via the proposed cooling demonstrator, and used to power the cooling of the Pawsey Centre. This ground water will be kept under pressure in a closed-loop system.
The cooler water is then pumped back into the aquifer via the injection well.
In addition to the extraction and injection wells, an exploration/research well will also be drilled.
The exploration/research well allows scientists to monitor the impact of the production plant on the aquifer and guide the requirements for geothermal production and injection wells.
The well will collect data relating to the aquifers including:
- geochemical make-up
The exploration/research well will:
- break the ground and obtain the first 1-D real data of the chosen site prior to installation of the geothermal production wells
- contain purpose designed downhole sensors to enable long term monitoring and active testing.
The placement of a research well will allow research collaboration in the wider Australian and New Zealand geoscience community for testing, monitoring and exploitation of hot sedimentary aquifers.
Using hot underground water for cooling supercomputers could become a design template for future computing centres in research and industry across the world.
With the addition of the exploration/research well, the Pawsey Centre geothermal research facility will allow world-class training for students in geothermal energy systems.
Read more about CSIRO's research into Geothermal energy: clean and sustainable energy for the future and WAGCOE's geothermal research programs. [external link]