Supercomputing Crucial to Clean Energy Production

By Nicole Hemsoth

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!

Infographic Highlights Career of Admiral Grace Murray Hopper

December 5, 2016

Dr. Grace Murray Hopper (December 9, 1906 – January 1, 1992) was an early pioneer of computer science and one of the most famous women achievers in a field dominated by men. Read more…

By Staff

Ganthier, Turkel on the Dell EMC Road Ahead

December 5, 2016

Who is Dell EMC and why should you care? Glad you asked is Jim Ganthier’s quick response. Ganthier is SVP for validated solutions and high performance computing for the new (even bigger) technology giant Dell EMC following Dell’s acquisition of EMC in September. In this case, says Ganthier, the blending of the two companies is a 1+1 = 5 proposition. Not bad math if you can pull it off. Read more…

By John Russell

AWS Embraces FPGAs, ‘Elastic’ GPUs

December 2, 2016

A new instance type rolled out this week by Amazon Web Services is based on customizable field programmable gate arrays that promise to strike a balance between performance and cost as emerging workloads create requirements often unmet by general-purpose processors. Read more…

By George Leopold

AWS Launches Massive 100 Petabyte ‘Sneakernet’

December 1, 2016

Amazon Web Services now offers a way to move data into its cloud by the truckload. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Weekly Twitter Roundup (Dec. 1, 2016)

December 1, 2016

Here at HPCwire, we aim to keep the HPC community apprised of the most relevant and interesting news items that get tweeted throughout the week. Read more…

By Thomas Ayres

HPC Career Notes (Dec. 2016)

December 1, 2016

In this monthly feature, we’ll keep you up-to-date on the latest career developments for individuals in the high performance computing community. Read more…

By Thomas Ayres

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

IBM and NSF Computing Pioneer Erich Bloch Dies at 91

November 30, 2016

Erich Bloch, a computational pioneer whose competitive zeal and commercial bent helped transform the National Science Foundation while he was its director, died last Friday at age 91. Bloch was a productive force to be reckoned. During his long stint at IBM prior to joining NSF Bloch spearheaded development of the “Stretch” supercomputer and IBM’s phenomenally successful System/360. Read more…

By John Russell

Ganthier, Turkel on the Dell EMC Road Ahead

December 5, 2016

Who is Dell EMC and why should you care? Glad you asked is Jim Ganthier’s quick response. Ganthier is SVP for validated solutions and high performance computing for the new (even bigger) technology giant Dell EMC following Dell’s acquisition of EMC in September. In this case, says Ganthier, the blending of the two companies is a 1+1 = 5 proposition. Not bad math if you can pull it off. Read more…

By John Russell

AWS Launches Massive 100 Petabyte ‘Sneakernet’

December 1, 2016

Amazon Web Services now offers a way to move data into its cloud by the truckload. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

Seagate-led SAGE Project Delivers Update on Exascale Goals

November 29, 2016

Roughly a year and a half after its launch, the SAGE exascale storage project led by Seagate has delivered a substantive interim report – Data Storage for Extreme Scale. Read more…

By John Russell

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

HPE-SGI to Tackle Exascale and Enterprise Targets

November 22, 2016

At first blush, and maybe second blush too, Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s (HPE) purchase of SGI seems like an unambiguous win-win. SGI’s advanced shared memory technology, its popular UV product line (Hanna), deep vertical market expertise, and services-led go-to-market capability all give HPE a leg up in its drive to remake itself. Bear in mind HPE came into existence just a year ago with the split of Hewlett-Packard. The computer landscape, including HPC, is shifting with still unclear consequences. One wonders who’s next on the deal block following Dell’s recent merger with EMC. Read more…

By John Russell

Intel Details AI Hardware Strategy for Post-GPU Age

November 21, 2016

Last week at SC16, Intel revealed its product roadmap for embedding its processors with key capabilities and attributes needed to take artificial intelligence (AI) to the next level. Read more…

By Alex Woodie

SC Says Farewell to Salt Lake City, See You in Denver

November 18, 2016

After an intense four-day flurry of activity (and a cold snap that brought some actual snow flurries), the SC16 show floor closed yesterday (Thursday) and the always-extensive technical program wound down today. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Why 2016 Is the Most Important Year in HPC in Over Two Decades

August 23, 2016

In 1994, two NASA employees connected 16 commodity workstations together using a standard Ethernet LAN and installed open-source message passing software that allowed their number-crunching scientific application to run on the whole “cluster” of machines as if it were a single entity. Read more…

By Vincent Natoli, Stone Ridge Technology

IBM Advances Against x86 with Power9

August 30, 2016

After offering OpenPower Summit attendees a limited preview in April, IBM is unveiling further details of its next-gen CPU, Power9, which the tech mainstay is counting on to regain market share ceded to rival Intel. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AWS Beats Azure to K80 General Availability

September 30, 2016

Amazon Web Services has seeded its cloud with Nvidia Tesla K80 GPUs to meet the growing demand for accelerated computing across an increasingly-diverse range of workloads. The P2 instance family is a welcome addition for compute- and data-focused users who were growing frustrated with the performance limitations of Amazon's G2 instances, which are backed by three-year-old Nvidia GRID K520 graphics cards. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Think Fast – Is Neuromorphic Computing Set to Leap Forward?

August 15, 2016

Steadily advancing neuromorphic computing technology has created high expectations for this fundamentally different approach to computing. Read more…

By John Russell

The Exascale Computing Project Awards $39.8M to 22 Projects

September 7, 2016

The Department of Energy’s Exascale Computing Project (ECP) hit an important milestone today with the announcement of its first round of funding, moving the nation closer to its goal of reaching capable exascale computing by 2023. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Gobbles SGI for Larger Slice of $11B HPC Pie

August 11, 2016

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) announced today that it will acquire rival HPC server maker SGI for $7.75 per share, or about $275 million, inclusive of cash and debt. The deal ends the seven-year reprieve that kept the SGI banner flying after Rackable Systems purchased the bankrupt Silicon Graphics Inc. for $25 million in 2009 and assumed the SGI brand. Bringing SGI into its fold bolsters HPE's high-performance computing and data analytics capabilities and expands its position... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ARM Unveils Scalable Vector Extension for HPC at Hot Chips

August 22, 2016

ARM and Fujitsu today announced a scalable vector extension (SVE) to the ARMv8-A architecture intended to enhance ARM capabilities in HPC workloads. Fujitsu is the lead silicon partner in the effort (so far) and will use ARM with SVE technology in its post K computer, Japan’s next flagship supercomputer planned for the 2020 timeframe. This is an important incremental step for ARM, which seeks to push more aggressively into mainstream and HPC server markets. Read more…

By John Russell

IBM Debuts Power8 Chip with NVLink and Three New Systems

September 8, 2016

Not long after revealing more details about its next-gen Power9 chip due in 2017, IBM today rolled out three new Power8-based Linux servers and a new version of its Power8 chip featuring Nvidia’s NVLink interconnect. Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

Vectors: How the Old Became New Again in Supercomputing

September 26, 2016

Vector instructions, once a powerful performance innovation of supercomputing in the 1970s and 1980s became an obsolete technology in the 1990s. But like the mythical phoenix bird, vector instructions have arisen from the ashes. Here is the history of a technology that went from new to old then back to new. Read more…

By Lynd Stringer

US, China Vie for Supercomputing Supremacy

November 14, 2016

The 48th edition of the TOP500 list is fresh off the presses and while there is no new number one system, as previously teased by China, there are a number of notable entrants from the US and around the world and significant trends to report on. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel Launches Silicon Photonics Chip, Previews Next-Gen Phi for AI

August 18, 2016

At the Intel Developer Forum, held in San Francisco this week, Intel Senior Vice President and General Manager Diane Bryant announced the launch of Intel's Silicon Photonics product line and teased a brand-new Phi product, codenamed "Knights Mill," aimed at machine learning workloads. 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

Beyond von Neumann, Neuromorphic Computing Steadily Advances

March 21, 2016

Neuromorphic computing – brain inspired computing – has long been a tantalizing goal. The human brain does with around 20 watts what supercomputers do with megawatts. And power consumption isn’t the only difference. Fundamentally, brains ‘think differently’ than the von Neumann architecture-based computers. While neuromorphic computing progress has been intriguing, it has still not proven very practical. Read more…

By John Russell

Dell EMC Engineers Strategy to Democratize HPC

September 29, 2016

The freshly minted Dell EMC division of Dell Technologies is on a mission to take HPC mainstream with a strategy that hinges on engineered solutions, beginning with a focus on three industry verticals: manufacturing, research and life sciences. "Unlike traditional HPC where everybody bought parts, assembled parts and ran the workloads and did iterative engineering, we want folks to focus on time to innovation and let us worry about the infrastructure," said Jim Ganthier, senior vice president, validated solutions organization at Dell EMC Converged Platforms Solution Division. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Container App ‘Singularity’ Eases Scientific Computing

October 20, 2016

HPC container platform Singularity is just six months out from its 1.0 release but already is making inroads across the HPC research landscape. It's in use at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), where Singularity founder Gregory Kurtzer has worked in the High Performance Computing Services (HPCS) group for 16 years. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Micron, Intel Prepare to Launch 3D XPoint Memory

August 16, 2016

Micron Technology used last week’s Flash Memory Summit to roll out its new line of 3D XPoint memory technology jointly developed with Intel while demonstrating the technology in solid-state drives. Micron claimed its Quantx line delivers PCI Express (PCIe) SSD performance with read latencies at less than 10 microseconds and writes at less than 20 microseconds. Read more…

By George Leopold

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