CARLSBAD – Steve Harrington serves up his engineering know-how with a side of wry humor.
His business, Chilldyne, makes liquid cooling systems for high-performance computers.
Harrington displays his system at trade shows, with one notable difference: instead of water, the normal coolant of choice, he has margaritas flowing through the system, cooling off a $26,000 Dell rack server without dousing the electronics.
Harrington’s drink dispenser is a great conversation starter. His value proposition, however, is all seriousness.
Temperature is a big issue in computer data centers. Servers — rack upon rack of them — generate heat, and the heat needs somewhere to go. In normal circumstances, air cooling works well enough.
However, more powerful chips are coming online, chips with the heft to power artificial intelligence. One model from Nvidia (NASDAQ: NVDA) consumes 700 watts.
The market for liquid cooling systems is expected to grow as computer chips become even more powerful. Nvidia is reportedly working on 2 kilowatt chips, Harrington said.
A Growing Market
“This market is going to take off like crazy,” said Harrington, who has also worked as a rocket scientist and a lecturer at UC San Diego.
Globally, the market for data center liquid cooling systems was worth $2.1 billion in 2022 and $2.6 billion in 2023, according to research from Markets and Markets. The space is expected to grow at a rate of 24.4% to $7.8 billion by 2028.
Insight Ace Analytic Pvt. Ltd., a second research company, placed the value of data center liquid cooling systems at $3.56 billion in 2022 and projects a compound annual growth rate of 27% to 2031, when the market is projected to be $30.61 billion.
A projected growth rate of 25% is “probably reasonable,” Harrington said, noting he is getting inquiries about applying his technology to very specific use cases.
“I’m working on a lot of quotes,” he said.
Water and electronics, of course, don’t mix. If water is in the lines under positive pressure, Harrington said, it is liable to leak out into the computer server.
Harrington’s solution for potential leaks is vacuum pumps; he puts the coolant under negative pressure. If the line springs a leak, the liquid stays in the line rather than flowing out of it. In another example of showmanship, Harrington demonstrates this capability by giving a trade show attendee a pair of nippers and challenging him to cut water line. Instead of flowing out, the water will retreat back into the flexible tubing.
Chilldyne has delivered 9,000 cold plates with no leaks, the CEO said.
The business holds patents on several aspects of the system, including cold plate technology and the pump. There is a patent pending on the automated coolant additive system.
Big Name User
Chilldyne’s cooling systems have made it onto three supercomputers at the U.S. government’s Sandia National Laboratories.
They include the 650-kilowatt Attaway machine from 2019 and the 960-kilowatt Manzano supercomputer from 2020.
Sandia’s latest project, called Vanguard, is still going together. Chilldyne is part of a team that includes chips from Israel-based NextSilicon and cooling from Penguin Solutions.
In 2022, Chilldyne received a $774,000 grant to develop a helical turbulator for a robust cold plate from ARPA-E; the agency is the R&D arm the U.S. Department of Energy. This year Chilldyne was notified that it will receive a follow-on grant of $550,000. The new money will fund work at the Texas Advanced Computing Center – including some work repurposing equipment provided by a competitor.
Chilldyne does not disclose revenue. Capital for the business comes from angel investors. One investor — whom Harrington would not identify — runs a hedge fund and puts a relatively small sum into the business.
A Unique Skill Set
Water used in Chilldyne systems is purified through reverse osmosis. Data centers employing liquid cooling also have to treat the water to avoid corrosion or algae.
“Corrosion and contamination creep up on you after a while,” Harrington said.
To work effectively in this IT niche, Harrington says an engineer also has to bring the best qualities of a plumber, a boat mechanic and a pool man to the job.
Chilldyne has been cooling computers since 2015, when the people behind a South Korean system took a gamble on the technology.
“The big issue in liquid cooling is testing in real world environment,” Harrington said. “You need someone to trust you with their $20 million supercomputer.”
CEO: Steve Harrington, Ph.D.
BUSINESS: Producer of liquid cooling technology for the high-tech sector
NOTABLE: Chilldyne has developed a liquid cooling “cold plate” able to cool 2 kilowatt microchips expected to reach the market soon