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!

RSC Reports 500Tflops, Hot Water Cooled System Deployed at JINR

April 18, 2018

RSC, developer of supercomputers and advanced HPC systems based in Russia, today reported deployment of “the world's first 100% ‘hot water’ liquid cooled supercomputer” at Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JI Read more…

By Staff

New Device Spots Quantum Particle ‘Fingerprint’

April 18, 2018

Majorana particles have been observed by university researchers employing a device consisting of layers of magnetic insulators on a superconducting material. The advance opens the door to controlling the elusive particle Read more…

By George Leopold

Cray Rolls Out AMD-Based CS500; More to Follow?

April 18, 2018

Cray was the latest OEM to bring AMD back into the fold with introduction today of a CS500 option based on AMD’s Epyc processor line. The move follows Cray’s introduction of an ARM-based system (XC-50) last November. Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPC and AI Convergence is Accelerating New Levels of Intelligence

Data analytics is the most valuable tool in the digital marketplace – so much so that organizations are employing high performance computing (HPC) capabilities to rapidly collect, share, and analyze endless streams of data. Read more…

Hennessy & Patterson: A New Golden Age for Computer Architecture

April 17, 2018

On Monday June 4, 2018, 2017 A.M. Turing Award Winners John L. Hennessy and David A. Patterson will deliver the Turing Lecture at the 45th International Symposium on Computer Architecture (ISCA) in Los Angeles. The Read more…

By Staff

Cray Rolls Out AMD-Based CS500; More to Follow?

April 18, 2018

Cray was the latest OEM to bring AMD back into the fold with introduction today of a CS500 option based on AMD’s Epyc processor line. The move follows Cray’ Read more…

By John Russell

IBM: Software Ecosystem for OpenPOWER is Ready for Prime Time

April 16, 2018

With key pieces of the IBM/OpenPOWER versus Intel/x86 gambit settling into place – e.g., the arrival of Power9 chips and Power9-based systems, hyperscaler sup Read more…

By John Russell

US Plans $1.8 Billion Spend on DOE Exascale Supercomputing

April 11, 2018

On Monday, the United States Department of Energy announced its intention to procure up to three exascale supercomputers at a cost of up to $1.8 billion with th Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Cloud-Readiness and Looking Beyond Application Scaling

April 11, 2018

There are two aspects to consider when determining if an application is suitable for running in the cloud. The first, which we will discuss here under the title Read more…

By Chris Downing

Transitioning from Big Data to Discovery: Data Management as a Keystone Analytics Strategy

April 9, 2018

The past 10-15 years has seen a stark rise in the density, size, and diversity of scientific data being generated in every scientific discipline in the world. Key among the sciences has been the explosion of laboratory technologies that generate large amounts of data in life-sciences and healthcare research. Large amounts of data are now being stored in very large storage name spaces, with little to no organization and a general unease about how to approach analyzing it. Read more…

By Ari Berman, BioTeam, Inc.

IBM Expands Quantum Computing Network

April 5, 2018

IBM is positioning itself as a first mover in establishing the era of commercial quantum computing. The company believes in order for quantum to work, taming qu Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

FY18 Budget & CORAL-2 – Exascale USA Continues to Move Ahead

April 2, 2018

It was not pretty. However, despite some twists and turns, the federal government’s Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) budget is complete and ended with some very positi Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

Nvidia Ups Hardware Game with 16-GPU DGX-2 Server and 18-Port NVSwitch

March 27, 2018

Nvidia unveiled a raft of new products from its annual technology conference in San Jose today, and despite not offering up a new chip architecture, there were still a few surprises in store for HPC hardware aficionados. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Inventor Claims to Have Solved Floating Point Error Problem

January 17, 2018

"The decades-old floating point error problem has been solved," proclaims a press release from inventor Alan Jorgensen. The computer scientist has filed for and Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Researchers Measure Impact of ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Patches on HPC Workloads

January 17, 2018

Computer scientists from the Center for Computational Research, State University of New York (SUNY), University at Buffalo have examined the effect of Meltdown Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Fast Forward: Five HPC Predictions for 2018

December 21, 2017

What’s on your list of high (and low) lights for 2017? Volta 100’s arrival on the heels of the P100? Appearance, albeit late in the year, of IBM’s Power9? Read more…

By John Russell

Russian Nuclear Engineers Caught Cryptomining on Lab Supercomputer

February 12, 2018

Nuclear scientists working at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) have been arrested for using lab supercomputing resources to mine crypto-currency, according to a report in Russia’s Interfax News Agency. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

How the Cloud Is Falling Short for HPC

March 15, 2018

The last couple of years have seen cloud computing gradually build some legitimacy within the HPC world, but still the HPC industry lies far behind enterprise I Read more…

By Chris Downing

Chip Flaws ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Loom Large

January 4, 2018

The HPC and wider tech community have been abuzz this week over the discovery of critical design flaws that impact virtually all contemporary microprocessors. T Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

How Meltdown and Spectre Patches Will Affect HPC Workloads

January 10, 2018

There have been claims that the fixes for the Meltdown and Spectre security vulnerabilities, named the KPTI (aka KAISER) patches, are going to affect applicatio Read more…

By Rosemary Francis

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Deep Learning at 15 PFlops Enables Training for Extreme Weather Identification at Scale

March 19, 2018

Petaflop per second deep learning training performance on the NERSC (National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center) Cori supercomputer has given climate Read more…

By Rob Farber

Lenovo Unveils Warm Water Cooled ThinkSystem SD650 in Rampup to LRZ Install

February 22, 2018

This week Lenovo took the wraps off the ThinkSystem SD650 high-density server with third-generation direct water cooling technology developed in tandem with par Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AI Cloud Competition Heats Up: Google’s TPUs, Amazon Building AI Chip

February 12, 2018

Competition in the white hot AI (and public cloud) market pits Google against Amazon this week, with Google offering AI hardware on its cloud platform intended Read more…

By Doug Black

HPC and AI – Two Communities Same Future

January 25, 2018

According to Al Gara (Intel Fellow, Data Center Group), high performance computing and artificial intelligence will increasingly intertwine as we transition to Read more…

By Rob Farber

New Blueprint for Converging HPC, Big Data

January 18, 2018

After five annual workshops on Big Data and Extreme-Scale Computing (BDEC), a group of international HPC heavyweights including Jack Dongarra (University of Te Read more…

By John Russell

Google Chases Quantum Supremacy with 72-Qubit Processor

March 7, 2018

Google pulled ahead of the pack this week in the race toward "quantum supremacy," with the introduction of a new 72-qubit quantum processor called Bristlecone. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Momentum Builds for US Exascale

January 9, 2018

2018 looks to be a great year for the U.S. exascale program. The last several months of 2017 revealed a number of important developments that help put the U.S. Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

US Plans $1.8 Billion Spend on DOE Exascale Supercomputing

April 11, 2018

On Monday, the United States Department of Energy announced its intention to procure up to three exascale supercomputers at a cost of up to $1.8 billion with th Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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