In a potentially major breakthrough for data centers, 3M Corp. today announced a new cooling fluid for large computer systems that reduces the need for powerful air conditioners and slashes energy costs.

The technology is being portrayed as a game changer for massive data centers, which have proliferated with the rise of cloud-based networks for businesses and consumers and as storage for so-called "big data" applications used by business and government.

Such centers today use lots of energy to run computer servers and storage arrays and also to cool off those machines from the heat they generate.

3M will demonstrate its new 3M Novec Engineered Fluid at its Maplewood headquarters later today along with partners Intel Corp. and SGI. The fluid will be tested on Intel's energy efficient processors and SGI's high-performance computing systems.

The cooling process is done in two phases and requires what officials called "immersion cooling technology."

The fluid, which cools a computer without leaving a residue, is expected to not only cut energy costs but to also reduce water consumption. That's because it eliminates the need for municipal water commonly used for evaporative cooling. The end result is that large data centers can now operate in one-tenth the space normally required because of large air conditioning and water systems.

3M officials also said their technology still allows for the heat of a supercomputer to be harvested and reused in other processes, such as seawater desalination.

"We are thrilled with the work that our collaboration with SGI and Intel has produced," Joe Koch, 3M's business director of 3M Electronic Markets Materials Division, said in a statement. "We applaud them for their leadership in helping us find better ways to address energy efficiency, space constraints and increased computer power in data centers."

©2014 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)