Intel’s New Cooling Technology: Coral Heatsinks for 2kW Chips
The technology is designed to reduce energy costs for cooling data centers.
Company Intel introduced new design of heatsinks for cooling chips, inspired by coral reefs. The project received $1.7 million in funding from the US Department of Energy (DoE) as part of an initiative COOLERCHIPS which is aimed at reducing energy costs for cooling data centers.
According to DoE, data centers consume about 2% of all electricity in the US, and of this, approximately 40% is spent on maintaining the optimal temperature of computing equipment. Intel’s goal is to develop an immersion-cooled tank thermal system that can handle chips up to two kilowatts.
Immersion cooling consists in immersing the entire system – motherboard, memory, processor, etc. – in a bath of non-conductive liquids that remove heat from the system using only a fraction of the energy compared to air-cooled systems.
Intel is considering using two-phase immersion-cooled immersion tank heatsinks that use specialized refrigerants tuned to boil at the chip’s operating temperature. The steam is then condensed and returned back to the tank.
Demonstration of a special coating designed for more intensive boiling of immersion cooling refrigerants
To achieve this goal, Intel plans to combine two major technologies. The first of these is special coatings that promote the formation of boiling nuclei (nucleation, nucleation). This means that the coatings help the coolant boil and thus cool the chip more efficiently.
Boiling core is a place on the surface of a solid or in the volume of a liquid where vapor bubbles form during boiling. Boiling nuclei can be due to surface irregularities, impurities, ionization, or other factors that promote vapor production.
The second main technology is related to the shape of the heatsinks. How explains Intel, manufacturers today apply special coatings to a flat surface, but studies show that a heatsink with a coral-like design and internal grooves has the greatest potential for heat transfer coefficient in two-phase immersion cooling.
Using funding from COOLERCHIPS, Intel plans to use 3D printing to prototype heatsinks and vapor chambers based on these technologies to improve immersion cooling efficiency from 0.025°C/watt to 0.01°C/watt.
Interest in liquid and immersion cooling has increased in recent years as chips have become more power-hungry and systems have become more computationally dense. So dense that GPU nodes can consume up to 10 kW of power under load.
DoE has a significant interest in solving this problem. In addition to reducing the load on the power grid, DoE runs some of the largest, hottest, and most power-hungry supercomputers in the world. As systems require more power and generate more heat, it is clear that new technologies are needed to manage both.