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Singapore universities to develop cooling solutions for tropical datacentres

The National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University will research on cooling technologies that help to lower the power consumption and carbon footprint of topical datacentres

Two Singapore universities have joined hands to develop cooling solutions to reduce the energy consumption and carbon emissions of datacentres located in tropical areas.

Under a new S$23m research programme, the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) will build a datacentre testbed by October 2021 to test cooling technologies such as a novel desiccant-coated heat exchanger, and a liquid cooling system developed by Facebook and Nortek Air Solutions, a supplier of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems.

The universities said combining these technologies will enable them to build more energy-efficient cooling solutions for buildings in hot and humid tropical climates. To keep servers cool, chip-level hybrid cooling will also be adopted.

Singapore accounts for about 60% of the datacentres in Southeast Asia. Its datacentres consume almost 7% of the country’s total energy needs, a figure projected to reach 12% by 2030.

As such, there is a growing need to reduce power consumption and carbon footprint in packing more computing power within the same floor area, while developing solutions to sustain the cooling demands of datacentres in tropical Southeast Asia.

“Datacentres are a critical enabler of the digital economy, but the average datacentre can exert a significant environmental burden,” said Chen Tsuhan, NUS deputy president for research and technology, adding that the datacentre testbed is a timely initiative that brings together the capabilities and experience of the academic community and industry.

Lam Khin Yong, NTU’s senior vice-president for research, said his university will also adapt the artificial intelligence technologies developed by its scientists for trials at the testbed.

The research programme is jointly funded by Singapore’s National Research Foundation and Facebook.

According to Cushman & Wakefield, the datacentre and co-location market in Southeast Asia is tipped to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 12.9% to reach $3.4bn by 2024, driven by ongoing digitisation efforts across the region.

Amid the rapid growth, organisations across the region are facing challenges in keeping their expanding datacentre footprint sustainable.

A 2020 survey of 208 organisations in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia found that the lack of environmental awareness (71%), lack of investment (65%) and lack of collaboration from stakeholders (61%) were key challenges to making datacentres more sustainable.

This was despite that fact that energy efficiency and sustainability were considered the most important or somewhat important by 66% of respondents when choosing a third-party datacentre provider.

Earlier this year, the Singapore government temporarily stopped the release of state land for datacentres, as well as the development of datacentres on existing real estate, to manage the datacentre ecosystem to ensure that it is environmentally sustainable.

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