In early 2009 IBEX’s chief tech Adam Pulley invented the concept of a data furnace, a device that could be used to heat peoples homes and businesses on-demand, using the waste heat from computer processing.  A novel technology based on the fact that all of the electricity electronic devices consume ends up as heat.  Computers consume quite a lot of electricity when working hard, so if you can find a use for that heat then you could have a really neat environmentally-friendly heat source.  If it could be made to work commercially then the heat would be a free by-product of computer processing, or the computer processing would be a free by-product of heating a home or business, depending on how you want to look at it.  At the time the technology was prohibitively expensive, but computing power was increasing exponentially so the idea was patented in the hope of future applications.

Fast forward to 2015, the cloud compute industry was booming, compute power, the internet and software applications had expanded in ways it was impossible to foresee back in 2009.  Technology prices had dropped and the massive cloud compute as a service industry had appeared – it all looked tantalisingly like there could be a perfect mix of compute customer demand and the very real need to address the worlds looming fossil fuel energy crisis.  Adam had formed the company Green Processing Ltd ready to take the technology forward and now was the time to get to work on it.  As he bought business-focused partners onboard, Green Processing transitioned into a new company and brand named Thermify.

Research

As Green Processing and Thermify evolved, Adam and IBEX acted as the startups’ sole technology resource, carrying out research into the fundamental aspects of data furnace technology and wrote several papers on the subject. Outside of competitor companies Nerdalize and Qarnot, Adam became one of the few technology experts in the world in the field of data furnace design, performance and thermal engineering.

Challenges

The challenges of building a technology hardware start-up requiring high levels of development funding are tough. Constant technology changes in cloud compute hardware, new computer processor efficiency gains and the incredible performance gains in renewable technologies, such as solar, also bring new challenges.

In March 2019 data furnace company Nerdalize went out of business, causing a shock in the data furnace field. Nerdalize had been operating in the Netherlands, outside of the regions covered by the patents awarded to Adam, yet had lost their funding despite years of research, their technology developed and a growing customer base. Fresh analysis was needed of the commercialisation potential of the technology.

Its never nice having to consider moving on from exciting technology projects, especially ones that aimed to help solve one of the worlds big environmental issues and which have consumed so many years of work. But with the writing on the wall, Adam decided in 2020 to sell his stake in the startup. Of course much has changed in the computer industry since 2009, but actually arguably much more has changed just in the last few years. Data center build-out is still occurring at a phenomenal rate, the energy consumption of data centers is growing at quite a rate too, but there are great improvements in energy efficiency being realised.

Alongside this, one thing that couldn’t be predicted even just a few years ago is the amazing improvements in renewable energy. The price per watt of both wind and solar renewable energy has fallen beyond what anyone believed possible and has given many data center operators a simple commercially viable option to consider when looking at their environmental impact.

Future

The data center industry could be poised to be one of the instrumental examples that helps shift other industries away from fossil fuel-based energy sources. In just a few short years massive operators such as Google have shifted all of their energy consumption to renewable sources and implemented fundamental re-thinking into how their systems consume energy. As other operators look to make the same environmentally conscious choices in this highly competitive industry, what could emerge is an example to every other industry out there that renewable power is not only possible, with new technology solutions it’s relatively straightforward and affordable to implement.

IBEX is really excited about these emerging trends and in particular being able to continue working on projects that can make a real difference. One of the newer exciting developments in this space is that it’s no longer just hardware that can help solve the worlds fossil fuel issues, there are many software applications which can also make great gains in the energy efficiency of many different industries and use cases. Here’s to the next 11 years of technology developments, no doubt it’s going to be very interesting.

Computer Heating patents written by IBEX chief tech Adam Pulley

Heating apparatus (2009)
U.S. Patent No. 8788101 (US2011008260), EU Patent No. 2312225

Heating apparatus (2017)
WO2019068916A3, GB1716368.4

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