Excess waste heat from a supercomputer being constructed by IBM will be used to warm nearby university buildings in Switzerland.

The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH) and IBM announced the plans to build a water-cooled supercomputer dubbed Aquasar, which they are saying is the first of its kind. It will consist of two IBM BladeCenter servers in one rack and will have a peak performance of about 10 Teraflops.

What makes this unique is that each blade will be equipped with a "microscale high-performance liquid cooler per processor, as well as input and output pipeline networks and connections."

According to IBM, the pipelines from the individual blades will link to the larger network of the server rack, which in turn are connected to the main water transportation network. The theory is that the cooling water will be heated constantly by the chips, and consequently cooled to the required temperature as it passes through a passive heat exchanger.

The resulting heat that is removed by the exchanger will in turn be delivered to the heating system of the university. IBM says that this eliminates the need for today's energy-hungry chillers.

Big Blue said that it expects the unique cooling system and direct heat reuse will decrease the carbon footprint of the Aquasar system by up to 85 percent and save up to 30 tons of CO2 per year, compared to a similar system using current cooling technologies.

"We cannot afford anymore to design computer systems based on the criterion of computational speed and performance alone," said Professor Dr Poulikakos of ETH Zurich, head of the Laboratory of Thermodynamics in Emerging Technologies and lead investigator of this project. "The new target must be high performance and low net power consumption supercomputers and data centres. This means liquid cooling."

Water, when used as a coolant, has the ability to capture heat about 4,000 times more efficiently than air apparently, and its heat-transporting properties are also far superior. Cooling has long been an issue that has vexed IT, as witnessed by the recent cooling failure in a London data centre that caused several servers to overheat and crash.

Aquasar is planned to start operation in 2010.

The Swiss are no strangers to energy reuse. In March last year, a data centre in Zurich used the heat generated from its equipment to heat a nearby swimming pool.