Data Center Growth Offers Opportunity for Water-Only Chillers

The COVID-19 pandemic has normalized working from home, and increased data traffic worldwide.

Moreover, digitalization and big data are evolving at high speed, and and more data centers will be needed “in the near future to handle this development,” said. Julia Romero, who handles Corporate Marketing and Communications for Energy Efficiency GmbH.

This represents a major opportunity for Efficient Energy, a Feldkirchen, Germany-based manufacturer of the eChiller with Bluezero Technology, which uses only water (R718) asa refrigerant.

“[Data centers] all need cooling,” and water is an obvious choice, as it is “non-toxic, non-flammable, economic and highly available,” she said. The eChiller produces chilled water at temperatures between 16°C (61°F) and 22°C (72°F), and at very low pressures.

In the last six years, the company has implemented around 25 data center projects with eChillers in major data centers like British Telecom, a London-based telecommunications and broadband provider, according to Romero.

This year, the Efficient Energy completed what it calls the world’s largest refrigeration installation using R718 at Saarbruecken, Germany-based telecommunications provider VSENet, with a refrigeration capacity of 140kW, according to the company website.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the company was “able to commission the system under strict hygiene requirements,” said Romero.

Currently, data centers typically employ air- or water-cooled chillers with synthetic refrigerants, according to Romero. However, the efficiency of the eChiller is driving interest in the unit. According to Romero, eChillers are between 40% to 70% more energy efficient “in comparison to a standard chiller using synthetic and harmful refrigerants.”

Consequently, data centers are among “the most suitable for our solution,” she said, adding that the company anticipates an “increasing demand for future-proof solutions like ours.”

The eChiller is also used for industrial process cooling and high-temperature heat pumps.

Advantages of water as a refrigerant

Aside from the energy efficiency improvement, R718 has other advantages for data centers, Romero noted.

Depending on ambient temperature and the temperature required by the center, eChiller installations can run in free cooling mode “up to 70% of the operating time.” In addition, “there are no restrictions for the installation of the equipment,” and unlike in flammable or toxic refrigerant systems “a machinery room is not necessary,” Romero said.

While Efficient Energy has typically installed its eChillers in machinery rooms, they can be placed “anywhere inside the building or outside within a container housing. The DIN EN378 [German refrigerant safety requirement document] does not apply since there is no synthetic refrigerant used in the unit,” according to Romero.

In addition, maintenance and general safety concerns are less of a factor than in standard refrigeration systems. For example, leakage checks, gas warning devices or safety valves are not needed, Romero said.

As there is no special qualification required, maintenance and technician training is easier in comparison to other systems.

“We usually offer a basic training on the unit, and remote monitoring is included in the standard version,” according to Romero.

“A yearly maintenance check is the only intervention we recommend.”

Cost and ROI

Efficient Energy’s eChillers are similar in price to other chillers with natural refrigerants like propane, CO2 or ammonia, notes Romero. But, the initial cost is higher than installing HFCs or HFO blends.

However, savings in energy use, refrigerant choice, and maintenance means a return on investment (ROI) in two to three years, she said.

As of January 1, 2019, the German Federal Office of Economics and Export Control (BAFA) has offered end-user subsidies for eChillers, but “we need national and international authorities to back up and foster this development,” according to Romero.

“Every revolutionary technology has some struggles in thebeginning before succeeding, but there are no valid long-term alternatives to natural refrigerants.”

Efficient Energy will be exhibiting at the Virtual Trade Show, scheduled for September 1-2, and organized by shecco, publisher of this website.