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Issue: March 24, 2014
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Cooling Electronics via Dielectric Fluid Immersion Patent Portfolio
LiquidCool Solutions has developed and owns a patent portfolio that centers on cooling
electronics via total immersion in a dielectric fluid. Our liquid cooling technology
decouples electronics from the room, thereby eliminating fans. We combine a sealed
enclosure and standard-size rack, a cost-effective approach that places special
emphasis on scalability and rack management. Beyond providing superior energy
savings, performance and reliability, LCS technology enables a broad range of unique
applications not possible with any other air or liquid cooling systems.
Interview conducted by: Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine
CEOCFO: Mr. Zien, what is LiquidCool Solutions? What have you developed?
Mr. Zien: LCS is primarily an IP licensing and technology applications firm. We have
developed a series of patents relating to total immersion of electronics in a dielectric
fluid. By way of background, the utility industry has been using dielectric fluids for
cooling transformers for decades. Some years ago, the founders of LCS, formerly
Hardcore Computing, implemented liquid cooling technology for the development of
over-clocked gaming machines. No cooling technology dissipates heat produced by
electronics more efficiently other than immersing all heat-generating components in the
cooling fluid. Today, there are four companies that do this and LCS is one of those four.
CEOCFO: Would you please explain what the cooling fluid is?
Mr. Zien: Probably 98 percent of all datacenters are cooled by blowing air over the electronic equipment, then converting that energy to heat. One could surmise, if you put in 100 watts of energy, 98 watts turns into waste heat that needs to be
rejected someplace. For desktop computers and laptops this heat is rejected to the room and hardly noticed except for the
fan noise. For data centers, the rejected heat is a very large issue. Fans take a great deal of space and use far too much
energy. By introducing air to the electronics, fans promote oxidation, corrosion and equipment failure. The best way to
solve these problems is to eliminate fans altogether. LCS does this by using a dielectric fluid, a liquid that does not
conduct electricity. Unlike water, which immediately shorts out electronics, a dielectric fluid has no negative effect. Our
total immersion technology takes all of the electronic components, including processor chips, memory, power supply and
all the components you see on a printed circuit board, and fully immerses them in fluid. The fluid then removes the heat by
pumping it out of the room. Data center owners have been putting up with a very inefficient air cooling systems for a long
time, an antiquated technology that is far too expensive in terms of energy cost, capital cost, space and reliability. This
makes the movement away from air cooling and toward liquid cooling inevitable. The question is when.
CEOCFO: Is your system in use today? If so, where? How is it installed?
Mr. Zien: As I mentioned before, one of the keys is practicality: how to make liquid cooling user friendly. Frankly, one of
the impediments has been that many of what we call the “embodiments,” shapes and sizes of the IT device and racks,
have been impractical. Also, some approaches to liquid cooling impede maintenance and rack management. LCS
servers, switches and storage take the form of standard size devices installed in standard size racks. The key is how to
get them out of the rack to service them. First, the need for service is considerably reduced, because eliminating fans
mitigates most of the root causes of mechanical and electrical failure. Even so, it is necessary to gain access to a device,
for upgrades if nothing else, and LCS has come up with a method of quickly and neatly servicing rack-based IT
equipment. There is no need for air circulation in the racks, and as a result it is possible to fit much more equipment in the
same space. A typical rack, which is what we call a 42U rack, holds 42 IT devices. LCS can fit 64 in that same space.
Increased rack density plus the elimination of fan units reduces the footprint of the data center by about fifty percent. In
other words it is possible to make the data center half as big and provide the same compute capability.
CEOCFO: Is this being used today? Is it still in development?
Mr. Zien: LCS technology is being used today. Commercial products are available. We license this technology to other
manufacturers and they embed it into their products. Some products cooled by LCS technology are available right now.
There is a system at the University of Minnesota Supercomputing Institute that has been in service for several years.
There are several embodiments of LCS technology on display at the Microsoft Technology Center in Minneapolis. Other
field installations were used to gather test data. In fact, there has been a considerable amount of testing over a period of
three years on this technology. During this time LCS engineers collected millions of data points relating to various flow
rates and fluid types. Among other things we learned that the dielectric fluid we use moves fourteen hundred times more
heat than air on a volumetric basis and, as a result, the amount of energy we use to dissipate heat from a data center is
about 98 percent less than a typical chiller/fan system. LCS now has 16 issued and 24 pending patents and, although
products are commercially available now, we continue to expand our patent portfolio and hone our competitive advantage.
CEOCFO: Where does the education process come in? How do you get the people who should know to
understand what is going on and to make use?
Mr. Zien: The people who call us are the early adopters. They either have a genuine curiosity or a special problem that
can only be solved using innovative technology. The truth is, from an engineering point of view, using air to cool data
centers never made sense. Air is an insulator. Everyone knows that. I learned in seventh grade science that cold air sinks
and warm air rises, but most data centers today push cold air up through holes in the floor. These widely used design
templates contradict fundamental principles of gravity, natural convection and common sense. Yes, it’s possible to make
air systems a bit better by tweaking them, but the reality is it’s a really bad way to move heat around and there is a lot of
heat to move. Data centers use about two percent of the total electrical energy generated in the world. Air cooling
represents 40% of this energy, a huge waste considering LCS technology can reduce cooling energy by as much as 98%.
Furthermore, LCS-cooled IT equipment can be located anywhere and there are circumstances where waste heat can be
recycled. For example, it is possible to install a compute rack in a mechanical room of a hospital or engine room of a ship,
and recapture energy to preheat hot water. Computers no longer need to be housed in a conditioned environment.
CEOCFO: Are your efforts toward the manufacturers to include it? Would you explain what your role is?
Mr. Zien: Manufacturers we are working with intend to use LCS technology to differentiate themselves from their
competitors. The benefits to their customers can take several forms. The LCS-cooled product might cost less or last
longer. The value proposition might be greater efficiency or silent operation. For example, LCS is talking to a company
that makes baggage scanners for airports. It turns out that baggage scanners burn out after about a year or two because
airports are dusty. Dust builds up on the boards and they overheat. By decoupling electronics from the room, LCS
eliminates that problem. We also find that some end users are demanding that their suppliers consider LCS technology to
meet their specialized requirements, especially those that have a problem that cannot be solved the conventional way.
There are two categories: high performance computing and harsh environment electronics. High performance computers
bump against thermodynamic limits and cannot use air to cool anymore. As well, electronics deployed in harsh
environments, where air pollution causes rapid degradation, can no longer use air for cooling. In both situations, the
isolation of the boards from the surrounding air is a key to the value proposition.
CEOCFO: What are your next steps?
Mr. Zien: There are five significant differentiators that distinguish LCS from companies promoting air cooling or other
liquid cooling technologies. One of them is that we get rid of the fans. Fans are completely eliminated in the IT device
chassis, rack, data processing room and mechanical equipment room; that has a major impact on cost, efficiency and
reliability. A second differentiator is that LCS technology can cool any electronics: servers, switches, solid-state storage,
electric vehicle battery packs, inverters, power supplies, wherever heat must be dissipated, and take any shape or size.
On the small end of the spectrum LCS was approached by an electric vehicle manufacturer to cool inverters with a system
that fits under the hood of a car. On the large end we are working on a design for a one megawatt prefabricated data
module in a space that would otherwise require three modules. Third, LCS technology can reduce data center energy use
by 40% and space requirements by 50%, and the upfront capital cost is lower than existing cooling systems. Fourth, LCS
is not a manufacturer and we do not compete with firms already operating in the industry. Rather, LCS licenses our
proprietary technology to manufacturers so they can better serve their existing customers and gain a competitive
advantage to attract new customers. Fifth, with 16 issued and 24 pending patents, our IP moat is wide and deep. Our next
step is capitalizing on these differentiators to increase the number of channel partners that take LCS technology to
CEOCFO: Are you funded for everything you would like to do?
Mr. Zien: There has been significant investment in the company over the past five years from private equity funds and
individuals. Our immediate goal is to generate licensing fees by developing close working relationships with channel
partners that will introduce LCS technology to their markets. If we were to raise more capital the funds would be used to
open offices on both Coasts and expand marketing activities.
CEOCFO: How do you deal, personally and as a company, with frustration and knowing that you really have
something that could make such a positive change and it is such a long, arduous process to, hopefully, actually
get it in use?
Mr. Zien: That is a good question. It is not enough to have better technology. You also have to have a plan to make
people aware that it exists and is practical. One of the biggest challenges is that prototypes can be expensive because we
make them in such small quantities and frankly, we make them ourselves. It is difficult to get people to buy into the idea
that LCS-cooled equipment could actually be less expensive if made in large quantities by commercial fabricators than the
equipment they are using now. That is the most difficult part; how to get people to bridge the gap on understanding. Our
answer is to approach the market by solving problems that no one else in the world can solve, where cost is less of an
issue. For example, LCS offers the best solution by far for cooling prefabricated data center modules, and the only
practical solution for cooling electronic equipment deployed in harsh environments. If the US Navy needs a computing
device for a submarine that uses space sparingly, runs silently and recycles waste energy to preheat hot water for the
crew, LCS offers the only practical solution. We will start with those tough assignments and work our way back to
quotidian applications as volume picks up and costs drop.
CEOCFO: What should people take away when reading about LiquidCool Solutions?
Mr. Zien: We were talking about some of the differentiators between LCS and others in the liquid cooling business. The
first thing that I think they should take away is that air cooling is yesterday’s news. It was a bad idea to start with and, from
an engineer’s perspective, I do not understand why the industry still clings to it, even for low-power equipment. Smart
people have spent a great deal of time and capital making air cooling “less worse.” But the sun is setting on this obsolete
technology and liquid cooling is coming. With LCS technology it is possible to reduce energy use, save space, reduce
maintenance, increase reliability, all at a lower upfront cost. The fact that LCS technology can cool one hundred kilowatts
per rack is just an added bonus.
BIO: Herb Zien is CEO of LiquidCool Solutions, a research and development company with an extensive
patent portfolio for technologies related to total liquid submersion and directed flow cooling of electronics.
Herb has over 30 years of experience in project development, engineering management, power
generation and energy conservation. He has been responsible for the development of numerous steam
and power production projects, as well as the acquisition and sale of energy-related businesses.
Previously Herb was cofounder of ThermalSource, LLC, a firm that grew to become the largest owner and
operator of District Energy Systems in the US, where he was principally responsible for project
development and internal growth initiatives.
Herb received a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master of Science degree
in Thermal Engineering from Cornell University, and a Master of Science degree in Management from the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he was editor of the Sloan Management Review. Articles written by Herb include Energy Star Data Center: A Missed Opportunity, published in the
November-December 2010 issue of Mission Critical magazine; PUE’s Shortcomings, published in the
March-April 2011 issue of Mission Critical magazine; and Liquid Cooled Data Centers Have Finally
Arrived, published in the Sep-Oct 2011 issue of BICSI News Magazine.
LiquidCool Solutions, Inc.
2717 Highway 14 West
Rochester, MN 55901
LiquidCoolSolutions Media Contact:
Patti D. Hill