SG’s NUS and NTU Announce Collaboration To Develop Cooling Solutions for Tropical Data Centres

Two of Singapore's top universities have recently announced that they will be collaborating on a S$23 million research programme to develop cooling solutions for the tropical country's data centres.

An artist’s impression of the STDCT which will be housed on NUS’ Kent Ridge campus. Credit: NUS News

The National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) have agreed to work together to develop sustainable cooling solutions for data centres located in tropical environments. The research programme, which will be held at the new Sustainable Tropical Data Centre Testbed (STDCT) in NUS' Kent Ridge campus on 1 October 2021, will also involve the development and demonstration of energy-efficient cooling techniques to achieve breakthroughs in the tropical data centre environment and to "future-proof" Singapore's data centre industry.


The two universities will be joined by the key stakeholders of the country's data centre industry. The research programme, meanwhile, was said to be jointly funded by the National Research Foundation Singapore (NRF) and anchor industry partner Facebook.


The research activities that will be conducted at the STDCT are organised under four work packages. The Air-cooled Tropical Data Centre 2.0 activity focuses on finding the optimum temperature and humidity setpoints for standardising air-cooling temperatures for tropical data centres. The Desiccant-Coated Heat Exchanger-enhanced Indirect Evaporative Cooling for Tropical Operations research, meanwhile, will determine if a cooling technique from the previously mentioned activity can be used under real operating conditions. The Direct Chip Hybrid Cooling and Cognitive Digital Twin research activities will focus on developing a heat sink design that will be used as an alternative air-cooling solution during water-loop maintenance, and work on the synergistic integration of the different innovative cooling technologies respectively.


A graphic representation of Google's data centre at Jurong West, Singapore. Credit: Google

The growing demand for data centres that house computing and data storage infrastructure due to the rise of the digital economy necessitated the construction of data centres like the STDCT in Singapore. However, data centres require high energy consumption to regulate the heat from computer servers by maintaining a 23 to 27-degree Celsius internal air temperature. The NUS said that using the current cooling system will result in high energy cost and carbon emissions - things that Singapore is actively trying to avoid. You may remember that the country is working towards its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least two million tonnes per year and reducing energy consumption by more than eight million megawatt-hours per year by 2030.


Thus, the creation of a sustainable and energy-efficient cooling solution for the STDCT is of great importance.


Professor Low Teck Seng, NRF's Chief Executive Officer, said that data centres are "the backbone of the digital economy", and thus require constant cooling for optimal operations. He also added that the STDCT will quicken the development and "test-bedding" of innovative and sustainable solutions for data centres towards commercial deployment.


His fellow professors, NTU's Professor Lam Khin Yong and NUS' Professor Chen Tsuhan, shared similar opinions, with Professor Lam saying, "there is a need to improve [the data centres'] energy efficiency and sustainability as we continue to grow as a data centre hub." This is in reference to the fact that Singapore supplies 60% of the data centres located in Southeast Asia.


This isn't the first step that Singapore has taken towards developing a sustainable, energy-efficient energy consumption solution for tropical data centres. On 30 May 2016, the Infocomm Media Development Authority reported that the country was conducting trials to reduce the energy consumption of data centres by up to 40% and reduce carbon emissions. The trials were part of Singapore's Smart Nation drive, a national initiative that harnesses technology to "stay ahead as a global city" and improve the lives and livelihoods of Singaporeans.

Written by John Paul Joaquin

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