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15 Tech Innovations That May Improve Data Center Sustainability, Reduce Carbon Emissions

June 5, 2023 by Joe Panettieri

Technology startups and investors worldwide are striving to improve data center sustainability. Many of the projects involve cooling systems that may boost data center efficiency.

Even the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is jumping into the action. Indeed, the department announced $40 million in funding for 15 data center sustainability projects. Some of the projects involve technology startups. Others empower key universities. Some of the funding is heading to technology giants that already have deep financial pockets of their own.

The 15 projects, supported by DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) involve the so-called COOLERCHIPS program. Among the organizations receiving funding (listed alphabetically):

1. Flexnode (Bethesda, MD) will develop a prefabricated, modularly designed data center that will leverage four key components and system-level technology advancements to cool more efficiently. (Award amount: $3.5 million)

2. HP Inc. (Corvallis, OR) will develop an aggressive liquid cooling solution that reduces the need for thermal interface material, thereby lowering the package thermal resistance. This design would reject server heat to 40°C and 60% relative humidity external ambient air. (Award amount: $3.25 million)

3. HRL Laboratories (Malibu, CA) will develop a novel data center thermal management system with low thermal resistance and greater energy efficiency to reduce power consumption for the next generation of data center servers. (Award amount: $2 million.)

4. Intel Federal (Austin, TX) will seek to adapt a two-phase immersion cooling system to spread heat more effectively. (Award amount: $1.7 million.)

5. JETCOOL Technologies (Littleton, MA) will develop a microconvective cooling technology that combines and optimizes two distinct cooling approaches to provide the highest levels of energy efficiency in data centers, aiming for significant energy savings. (Award amount: $1,265,747)

15 Data Center Sustainability Developments: Funding Awards 6-10

6. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (Golden, CO) will develop testing protocols to evaluate the cooling technologies developed by COOLERCHIPS projects in real data center operating conditions. This technical evaluation team will leverage the work done by the other project teams to develop a digital twin to evaluate key parameters and help test a broad range of technologies to evaluate thermal, reliability, and cost goals. (Award amount: $1,463,319)

7. Nvidia (Santa Clara, CA) will develop a modular datacenter with a multi-aspect innovative cooling system. The design cools chips with a two-phase cold plate, which achieve a thermal resistance as low as 0.0025°C/W. (Award amount: $5,000,000)

8. Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN) will develop an innovative chip-level direct two-phase impingement jet cooling solution to drastically enhance overall thermal performance while reducing pumping power. (Award amount: $1,881,315)

9. Raytheon Technologies Research Center (East Hartford, CT) will develop a system to remove heat from sources in servers using ribbon oscillating heat pipes. This system could enable a transformational reduction in the power consumption of future data centers. (Award amount: $2,504,024)

10. University of California, Davis (Davis, CA) will develop a suite of holistic thermal management solutions and incorporate these in a modular datacenter for edge computing. Their design innovations include efficient heat extraction and dissipation of this heat to the ambient by using high-efficiency, low-cost heat exchangers. (Award amount: $3,586,473)

15 Data Center Sustainability Developments: Funding Awards 11-15

11. University of Florida (Gainesville, FL) will develop a disruptive thermal management solution proposed for cooling future CPU and GPU chips at unprecedented heat flux and power levels in data centers server racks. The new technology allows for significant future growth in processor power, rejects heat directly to the ambient air external to the data center, and would facilitate adoption within existing data center infrastructure with a primary liquid cooling loop. (Award amount: $3,042,417)

12. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Champaign, IL) will develop a cooling paradigm capable of both minimal energy use and maximum cooling power for future servers. (Award amount: $2,500,000)

13. University of Maryland (College Park, MD) will develop an integrated decision support software tool for the design of next-generation data centers that links existing modeling software with an innovative co-simulation framework. (Award amount: $3,484,484)

14. University of Missouri (Columbia, MO) will develop an innovative, scalable cooling solution for data centers offering numerous advantages over existing phase-change processes. (Award amount: $1,649,290)

15. University of Texas at Arlington (Arlington, TX) will develop a novel hybrid cooling technology to address the growing need for advanced thermal management solutions for high-power data centers. (Award amount: $2,843,223) 

Learn more about the projects selected as part of the COOLERCHIPS program.

Four Remaining Question Marks...

We'll be curious to see...

  1. If or when each of those developments come to market;
  2. pricing for each product or service;
  3. associated partner programs, if any; and
  4. the estimated return on investment (ROI) for early adopters seeking more efficient IT solutions.

And One Potential Concern

On the concern front, we're not sure why the U.S. federal government has to offer R&D financial incentives to highly profitable and/or high-valuation technology companies. One prime example: At the time of this writing, Nvidia's valuation was nearly $1 trillion...

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