Supercomputing Crucial to Clean Energy Production

By Tiffany Trader

February 13, 2013

The Office of Fossil Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) is the proud owner of a brand new SGI supercomputer. Named High-Performance Computer for Energy and the Environment, or HPCEE for short, the 500 teraflops machine will help NETL scientists undertake a broad range of energy and environmental research, with a focus on coal, natural gas and oil.

Growing concern over climate change has led many to reconsider our relationship with fossil fuels, which comprise nearly 60 percent of human-generated CO2 emissions. The reality is that for now, traditional energy sources continue to dominate US energy policy, but there are signs of change. The US Department of Energy (DOE) under the direction of outgoing-Secretary Steven Chu has pushed for an environmentally-sound, sustainable energy portfolio that includes alternative energy sources. It was Chu who set the stage for some of NETL’s most prominent programs, for example the Simulation-Based Engineering User Center (SBEUC) and the Carbon Capture Simulation Initiative (CCSI).

As a Department of Energy lab, NETL supports the DOE’s mission to advance the national, economic, and energy security of the United States, mainly through a focus on fossil fuel resources. A glance at the lab’s key mandates – which include clean power, climate change mitigation, energy-efficiency and renewable energy – reveals an expanded awareness of today’s energy-related challenges. One of the ways that NETL contributes to climate change mitigation is by developing new methods for monitoring, capturing and sequestering greenhouse gases as directed by the President’s Global Climate Change Initiative. High-performance computing is essential to carrying out this research.

HPCwire spoke with Chris Guenther, director of NETL’s Computational Science Division to find out more about the new system. Mr. Guenther is responsible for the day-to-day management of NETL’s Simulation-Based Engineering User Center – where HPCEE is housed.

“Within the division what we try to do is develop physics-based models and methods and tools to accelerate the development and deployment of advanced technology to utilize our fossil energy resources,” says Guenther.

His team undertakes a wide range of modeling and simulation work at various scales, from molecules to devices to entire power plants.

HPCEE was commissioned to support the computational fluid dynamics and computational chemistry efforts underway at NETL. The SGI Rackable machine contains 24,192 2.6 gHz Intel Xeon E5-2670 cores with 48,384 GB of system memory in 1,512 computational nodes connected via Mellanox InfiniBand QDR. The architecture achieved 413.5 teraflops Rmax (Linpack) out of 503.2 teraflops peak, for an impressive theoretical efficiency of 82 percent.

NETL characterizes HPCEE as one of the most energy-efficient systems of its kind in the world, but that statement merits closer inspection. The half-petaflop supercomputer placed a respectable 55th on the latest TOP500 list. But on the Green500 list, which ranks top systems based on FLOPS per watt, the system finished in 403rd place – not exactly boast-worthy.

Where NETL can claim some green bragging rights is on the datacenter-side. HPCEE resides inside an SGI ICE Cube Air datacenter, which provides cooling and power with a PUE in the 1.03 to 1.06 range. It does so “out-of-the-box” – no special modifications were made to achieve this level of performance.

This low PUE reading means that only one percent of total electrical consumption goes toward cooling the equipment. NETL notes that the increased efficiency translates into an average annual savings of $450,000.

“The SGI Modular Data Center consists of a 1.1 MW transformer and utility/power center supporting two equipment aisles of 20 racks each,” says Guenther. “Three racks of storage and utility equipment, three racks of Mellanox trunk switches and 21 racks of compute nodes fill 27 of the available racks.”

Asked what the impetus was for a modular datacenter as opposed to a custom-built site, Guenther referenced a site study which showed that the external modular datacenter approach was more cost effective and quicker in terms of providing compute cycles to the Fossil Energy research staff. The purchase decision was based on a scoring system which put an emphasis on performance and efficiency, he reported.

Next >>

This 500-teraflops machine is a really big deal for NETL researchers and their partners. Up to now, the laboratory has gotten by with using many small computer clusters, but there were many days when users simply could not find available cores to do their work, notes Guenther. With an order of magnitude more computing power, scientists will have more cores available to them and they’ll be able to model extremely difficult problems, such as coal jet penetration into a gasifier.

NETL HPCEE supercomputerAs HPCEE comes online, they will start shutting down the other clusters except for one or two, adding to the overall energy savings.

While most of NETL’s funding and work is to support the Office of Fossil Energy, Guenther emphasizes an R&D portfolio that is “weighted heavily toward technology that is much more environmentally-friendly as well as the optimization of existing fossil energy devices.”

“Fossil energy gets a bad rap, but just about everything that we are doing is focusing on the environmental aspect of fossil energy,” he adds.

Underscoring this point, Guenther cites the innovative work of the Carbon Capture Simulation Initiative (CSSI), tasked with accelerating the development and deployment of sorbent-based CO2 capture. This NETL-led project just rolled out a suite of 21 computational tools and models aimed at new carbon capture technologies.

“Programs like this are the reason we have HPCEE,” says Guenther. “The high fidelity computational fluid dynamic modeling work that is part of the Carbon Capture Simulation Initiative will be done exclusively on this new system.”

sorbent pellets
Sorbent pellets developed by NETL prepared by Pressure Chemical Company

“There’s no commercial-scale sorbent-based carbon capture systems out there,” he continues. “We’re developing our own sorbents here at NETL from the ground up. We’re testing those; we’re modeling them in small reactors; we’re gaining confidence in our models that will allow us then to scale up these models, to actually look at the ability in the virtual world to do commercial-scale sorbent-based CO2 capture.”

For industry, sophisticated models like these are critical for reducing the risks associated with commercialization.

Combining innovative technology with an effective industry transfer mechanism is a winning strategy. NETL was just recognized by R&D Magazine for its work with sorbent pellets. The magazine considers this novel carbon capture technology among the 100 most technologically significant products to enter the marketplace within the past year.

The CCSI also helps quantify the uncertainty associated with a model’s prediction. “In this initiative, they’re conducting models at different length and time scales,” says Guenther. “At one end they’re doing process-level modeling, or the overall power-plant type modeling. At the other end, they’re doing very high-fidelity, kinetic models and CFD models that are very small length of time scales, and they’re coupling those different models together in a consistent fashion and they are propagating the uncertainty through these different length and time scales.”

NETL projects span the entire gamut of research stages. “We work with industry and other people on brand-new technology that has not hit the ground as well as technology that’s already out there that we are trying to optimize and/or improve,” says Guenther.

As an example of the former, the lab is exploring promising new technologies like chemical-looping, which offers the potential to generate electricity from coal with significantly less pollution and less cost. To do this, researchers are building models and gaining insight from a fundamental level using small experiments to help guide them.

And at the other end of the spectrum, NETL scientists are doing work with coal gasification, a technology that is more mature and which they have more experience with. This is an area where they are applying their models toward industry transfer and commercialization.

The HPCEE support staff are currently in the process of migrating over data, software and all the necessary tools for performing day-to-day simulations. They anticipate that the system will be production-ready by early Spring.

When HPCEE goes live, researchers from the five universities that are part of the NETL-Regional University Alliance – Carnegie Mellon, Penn State, the University of Pittsburgh, West Virginia University, and Virginia Tech – will also be able to access the supercomputer.


Related Articles

Steven Chu’s DOE Legacy: Big Science, Grand Challenges and Solyndra

New Computational Tools Help Carbon Capture Technologies

Clean Energy Conundrum: In Europe, Regulations Have Helped Create a “Golden Age Of Coal”

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

‘Strategies in Biomedical Data Science’ Advances IT-Research Synergies

March 23, 2017

“Strategies in Biomedical Data Science: Driving Force for Innovation” by Jay A. Etchings (John Wiley & Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC Compiler Company PathScale Seeks Life Raft

March 23, 2017

HPCwire has learned that HPC compiler company PathScale has fallen on difficult times and is asking the community for help or actively seeking a buyer for its assets. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Launches New Machine Learning Journal

March 22, 2017

On Monday, Google announced plans to launch a new peer review journal and “ecosystem” Read more…

By John Russell

Swiss Researchers Peer Inside Chips with Improved X-Ray Imaging

March 22, 2017

Peering inside semiconductor chips using x-ray imaging isn’t new, but the technique hasn’t been especially good or easy to accomplish. Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HFT Firms Turn to Co-Location to Gain Competitive Advantage

High-frequency trading (HFT) is a high-speed, high-stakes world where every millisecond matters. Finding ways to execute trades faster than the competition translates directly to greater revenue for firms, brokerages, and exchanges. Read more…

LANL Simulation Shows Massive Black Holes Break “Speed Limit”

March 21, 2017

A new computer simulation based on codes developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory is shedding light on how supermassive black holes could have formed in the early universe contrary to most prior models which impose a limit on how fast these massive ‘objects’ can form. Read more…

Quantum Bits: D-Wave and VW; Google Quantum Lab; IBM Expands Access

March 21, 2017

For a technology that’s usually characterized as far off and in a distant galaxy, quantum computing has been steadily picking up steam. Read more…

By John Russell

Intel Ships Drives Based on 3-D XPoint Non-volatile Memory

March 20, 2017

Intel Corp. has begun shipping new storage drives based on its 3-D XPoint non-volatile memory technology as it targets data-driven workloads. Read more…

By George Leopold

Researchers Recreate ‘El Reno’ Tornado on Blue Waters Supercomputer

March 16, 2017

The United States experiences more tornadoes than any other country. About 1,200 tornadoes touch down each each year in the U.S. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC Compiler Company PathScale Seeks Life Raft

March 23, 2017

HPCwire has learned that HPC compiler company PathScale has fallen on difficult times and is asking the community for help or actively seeking a buyer for its assets. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Quantum Bits: D-Wave and VW; Google Quantum Lab; IBM Expands Access

March 21, 2017

For a technology that’s usually characterized as far off and in a distant galaxy, quantum computing has been steadily picking up steam. Read more…

By John Russell

Trump Budget Targets NIH, DOE, and EPA; No Mention of NSF

March 16, 2017

President Trump’s proposed U.S. fiscal 2018 budget issued today sharply cuts science spending while bolstering military spending as he promised during the campaign. Read more…

By John Russell

CPU-based Visualization Positions for Exascale Supercomputing

March 16, 2017

In this contributed perspective piece, Intel’s Jim Jeffers makes the case that CPU-based visualization is now widely adopted and as such is no longer a contrarian view, but is rather an exascale requirement. Read more…

By Jim Jeffers, Principal Engineer and Engineering Leader, Intel

US Supercomputing Leaders Tackle the China Question

March 15, 2017

Joint DOE-NSA report responds to the increased global pressures impacting the competitiveness of U.S. supercomputing. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

New Japanese Supercomputing Project Targets Exascale

March 14, 2017

Another Japanese supercomputing project was revealed this week, this one from emerging supercomputer maker, ExaScaler Inc., and Keio University. The partners are working on an original supercomputer design with exascale aspirations. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Debuts HGX-1 for Cloud; Announces Fujitsu AI Deal

March 9, 2017

On Monday Nvidia announced a major deal with Fujitsu to help build an AI supercomputer for RIKEN using 24 DGX-1 servers. Read more…

By John Russell

HPC4Mfg Advances State-of-the-Art for American Manufacturing

March 9, 2017

Last Friday (March 3, 2017), the High Performance Computing for Manufacturing (HPC4Mfg) program held an industry engagement day workshop in San Diego, bringing together members of the US manufacturing community, national laboratories and universities to discuss the role of high-performance computing as an innovation engine for American manufacturing. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

For IBM/OpenPOWER: Success in 2017 = (Volume) Sales

January 11, 2017

To a large degree IBM and the OpenPOWER Foundation have done what they said they would – assembling a substantial and growing ecosystem and bringing Power-based products to market, all in about three years. Read more…

By John Russell

TSUBAME3.0 Points to Future HPE Pascal-NVLink-OPA Server

February 17, 2017

Since our initial coverage of the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer yesterday, more details have come to light on this innovative project. Of particular interest is a new board design for NVLink-equipped Pascal P100 GPUs that will create another entrant to the space currently occupied by Nvidia's DGX-1 system, IBM's "Minsky" platform and the Supermicro SuperServer (1028GQ-TXR). Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Tokyo Tech’s TSUBAME3.0 Will Be First HPE-SGI Super

February 16, 2017

In a press event Friday afternoon local time in Japan, Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) announced its plans for the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer, which will be Japan’s “fastest AI supercomputer,” Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Wants to be “Red Hat” of Deep Learning

January 26, 2017

IBM today announced the addition of TensorFlow and Chainer deep learning frameworks to its PowerAI suite of deep learning tools, which already includes popular offerings such as Caffe, Theano, and Torch. Read more…

By John Russell

Lighting up Aurora: Behind the Scenes at the Creation of the DOE’s Upcoming 200 Petaflops Supercomputer

December 1, 2016

In April 2015, U.S. Department of Energy Undersecretary Franklin Orr announced that Intel would be the prime contractor for Aurora: Read more…

By Jan Rowell

Is Liquid Cooling Ready to Go Mainstream?

February 13, 2017

Lost in the frenzy of SC16 was a substantial rise in the number of vendors showing server oriented liquid cooling technologies. Three decades ago liquid cooling was pretty much the exclusive realm of the Cray-2 and IBM mainframe class products. That’s changing. We are now seeing an emergence of x86 class server products with exotic plumbing technology ranging from Direct-to-Chip to servers and storage completely immersed in a dielectric fluid. Read more…

By Steve Campbell

Enlisting Deep Learning in the War on Cancer

December 7, 2016

Sometime in Q2 2017 the first ‘results’ of the Joint Design of Advanced Computing Solutions for Cancer (JDACS4C) will become publicly available according to Rick Stevens. He leads one of three JDACS4C pilot projects pressing deep learning (DL) into service in the War on Cancer. Read more…

By John Russell

BioTeam’s Berman Charts 2017 HPC Trends in Life Sciences

January 4, 2017

Twenty years ago high performance computing was nearly absent from life sciences. Today it’s used throughout life sciences and biomedical research. Genomics and the data deluge from modern lab instruments are the main drivers, but so is the longer-term desire to perform predictive simulation in support of Precision Medicine (PM). There’s even a specialized life sciences supercomputer, ‘Anton’ from D.E. Shaw Research, and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center is standing up its second Anton 2 and actively soliciting project proposals. There’s a lot going on. Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

HPC Startup Advances Auto-Parallelization’s Promise

January 23, 2017

The shift from single core to multicore hardware has made finding parallelism in codes more important than ever, but that hasn’t made the task of parallel programming any easier. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC Technique Propels Deep Learning at Scale

February 21, 2017

Researchers from Baidu’s Silicon Valley AI Lab (SVAIL) have adapted a well-known HPC communication technique to boost the speed and scale of their neural network training and now they are sharing their implementation with the larger deep learning community. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

CPU Benchmarking: Haswell Versus POWER8

June 2, 2015

With OpenPOWER activity ramping up and IBM’s prominent role in the upcoming DOE machines Summit and Sierra, it’s a good time to look at how the IBM POWER CPU stacks up against the x86 Xeon Haswell CPU from Intel. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Sees Bright Future for AI Supercomputing

November 23, 2016

Graphics chipmaker Nvidia made a strong showing at SC16 in Salt Lake City last week. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IDG to Be Bought by Chinese Investors; IDC to Spin Out HPC Group

January 19, 2017

US-based publishing and investment firm International Data Group, Inc. (IDG) will be acquired by a pair of Chinese investors, China Oceanwide Holdings Group Co., Ltd. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

US Supercomputing Leaders Tackle the China Question

March 15, 2017

Joint DOE-NSA report responds to the increased global pressures impacting the competitiveness of U.S. supercomputing. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Trump Budget Targets NIH, DOE, and EPA; No Mention of NSF

March 16, 2017

President Trump’s proposed U.S. fiscal 2018 budget issued today sharply cuts science spending while bolstering military spending as he promised during the campaign. Read more…

By John Russell

Intel and Trump Announce $7B for Fab 42 Targeting 7nm

February 8, 2017

In what may be an attempt by President Trump to reset his turbulent relationship with the high tech industry, he and Intel CEO Brian Krzanich today announced plans to invest more than $7 billion to complete Fab 42. Read more…

By John Russell

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This