Protecting “Frontier,” The World’s Fastest Supercomputer

Posted on Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Forsta Self-Cleaning Filters Provide Reliable Filtration on Cooling Water; 26,000+ Gallons per Minute at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Cooling Tower Filters at The Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Cooling tower water filters in the new mechanical room for the OLCF’s upcoming Frontier exasacle computer.

Keeping debris, scale and biological growth out of a computer or data center’s cooling system is critical to maintaining energy efficiency, conserving water, and providing reliable cooling for the system. The scale of data center cooling requirements can range from several hundred gallons per minute for small cell phone data centers, to many thousands of gallons per minute to cool the world’s fastest high-performance super computers. Forsta self-cleaning filters provide reliable filtration for data cooling systems of all sizes.


The Oak Ridge National Laboratory is home to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the single largest supporter of research in the physical sciences in the United States.When the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) new exascale supercomputer, Frontier, completed installation at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in 2021, it debuted as a landmark in high-performance computing with groundbreaking performance of greater than 1.5 exaflops (one quintillion floating-point operations per second). Before the supercomputer could come online, the room it occupies had to undergo a complete mechanical, electrical, and structural transformation.

An article on the lab’s website detailing the process reads;

“Long before the data center’s construction began—even before the demo work to gut the room—another massive building project had to be tackled: a mechanical room for all the machinery that will be feeding cooling to Frontier. The new supercomputer’s cooling water towers will have a system volume of 130,000 gallons, with 350-horsepower pumps that can each move over 5,000 gallons per minute of the high-temperature water through the Frontier system. The four pumps will connect to the data center via 500 linear feet of 24-inch pipe.”[i]

Two Forsta H24-180D model filters dual chamber units with 24” inlet and outlet were selected to handle a maximum flow of 13,000 gallons per minute each and were successfully installed to protect the Frontier cooling system.  The 500 micron wedge wire screens remove suspended solids that could cause damage to the cooling system. The wedge wire screens were selected in particular to tackle the challenging environment of airborne particulate, including cottonwood seeds and other fibrous organic matter.

Cottonwood Seed Removal with Wedge Wire Screen

A year and a half after the successful operation and proven performance of the initial filtration units, an additional filter was added to increase capacity. With less than 1% of flow discharged to backwash during the automatic cleaning cycle, the Forsta Self-Cleaning Filters met rigorous water use efficiency standards.


Poor water quality (including high particle loading) can lead to the following common problems within a cooling tower system: corrosion, scaling, fouling and microbiological activity. These problems are inter-dependent to the extent that prevention of one may help reduce the magnitude of the others. An effective filtration system lowers the particulate levels in the cooling water, which directly reduces fouling.

Because microbiological organisms will feed on organic particulates, reduction of particulates also corresponds directly with a reduction in biological growth. It follows that filtration will prevent corrosion that occurs as a result of microbiological growth, and scaling which occurs as a byproduct of fouling and corrosion. Filtration minimizes all the risks associated with cooling tower operation.

Minimizing risk to the world’s fastest supercomputers is a task that Forsta’s equipment fulfills reliably.