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BASF ramps up petaflops with new Quriosity HPE-build hardware

The AMD-powered 3 petaflops supercomputer will offer BASF the ability to run more complex simulations of chemical processes

BASF has begun running high-performance computing (HPC) workloads on an AMD-powered machine, believed to be the world’s largest supercomputer for industrial chemical research.

The latest Quriosity supercomputer has been installed at BASF’s Ludwigshafen site in Germany. It is rated at 3 petaflops, compared with the 1.75-petaflop machine it replaces. The original Quriosity supercomputer was deployed at BASF in 2017 and has since carried out an average of 20,000 tasks per day and is used by more than 400 employees worldwide.

According to Melanie Maas-Brunner, chief technology officer at BASF, above-average computing power is required these days to work out the most promising polymer structures from thousands of possibilities.

“Over the past five years, we have worked very successfully worldwide with our supercomputer Quriosity. It enabled us to considerably shorten the development time for innovative molecules and chemical compounds and thus accelerate the market launch of new products,” she said. “But the computing capacity was no longer sufficient. Moreover, the complexity of our research projects and thus the demands on the supercomputer have increased. We therefore decided to invest in a new high-performance computer.”

BASF claimed calculations that would have taken around a year in the past can be carried out by a supercomputer in just a few days. “Modelling, virtual experiments and simulations are becoming increasingly complex and require more computing power. With the new supercomputer, which is approximately twice as fast, we can now provide our researchers with the necessary computing power,” Maas-Brunner added.

In addition, Maas-Brunner said the new hardware offers BASF the ability to reduce product development times: “We were able to identify and utilise previously hidden connections to drive completely new research approaches.”

One of the application areas is the ability to run complex simulations on Quriosity to help researchers better understand the composition of personal care products. BASF said simulations also help to plan and optimise reaction processes. For instance, the distribution of substances and the temperature in a reactor can be simulated and this information can be used to continuously improve production.

Built by Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), the supercomputer uses AMD processors (CPUs) and employs a new approach to cooling. The system absorbs the heat directly where it is generated in the supercomputer and transports it away, which BASF said significantly reduces the energy required – and therefore the operating costs.

The previous supercomputer is being recycled by HPE, with 95% to be refurbished.

BASF also plans to use cloud computing power. “This hybrid solution offers us the best possible technical and operational flexibility,” said Maas-Brunner. “It allows us to handle requests requiring exceptionally large processing power as well as work on special tasks that our own supercomputer is not designed for.”

Read more supercomputer stories

  • Imperial College London has joined forces with Lenovo and Intel to bolster its HPC capabilities for the benefit of its research.
  • High-performance computing requires specialised hardware to collect data, and a software framework to help sort and process that data. Learn about HPC requirements.

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