Getting our data centers under control

Professor Mario Paolone of STI's Distributed Electrical Systems Laboratory © 2023 EPFL

Professor Mario Paolone of STI's Distributed Electrical Systems Laboratory © 2023 EPFL

Within the context of the Solutions4Sustainability program, EPFL has funded the Heating Bits project in an effort to reign in the soaring carbon footprint of data centers.

The cloud is ever-growing, and as a result, data centers are multiplying in size and number. Data centers currently use 2-3% of global energy, and that figure is projected to reach 10% by 2030. To meet demand, outdated technology is used to provide quick solutions. Cooling systems are often unwieldy and inefficient, with little or no use made of the excess heat.

The six-year Heating Bits project, funded by EPFL’s Solutions4Sustainability program, brings together a multi-talented team of School of Engineering (STI) professors to develop technologies and methodologies to minimize data center carbon footprints, with a focus on the new EPFL Data Center.

"We are managing different flows: information flows, electricity flows, and thermal flows,” explains project lead Mario Paolone, head of the Distributed Electrical Systems Laboratory – Power Systems Group. “Heat will be extracted from the CPUs of the EPFL Data Center for local district heating, as well as for electricity generation.”

A multi-system – and multi-disciplinary – challenge

Elison Matioli (PowerLab) is retrofitting standard server chipsets with on-chip liquid cooling. Meanwhile, Jürg Schiffmann (Laboratory for Applied Mechanical Design) is developing optimal organic Rankine cycles to generate electricity for the recuperated heat. Drazen Dujic (Power Electronics Lab) is building a microgrid to distribute flows of electricity between energy storage systems, photovoltaic generation, and power supplies. David Atienza (ESL/EcoCloud) is building the intelligent systems that will rank sources of energy by ecological quality and availability, and predict optimal strategies on an daily basis.

Paolone’s challenge will be to coordinate all of these systems.

"In these collaborative projects, you are exposed to different disciplines and the know-how of people from varied cultural and technical backgrounds," he says. "This is extremely beneficial when developing solutions – and these solutions are often the most successful."

Already deployed are a 60kWh battery, integrated into a microgrid, and a dedicated space in the new EPFL Data Center, the Centrale de Chauffe par Thermopompe (CCT), with its large array of solar panels. A demonstrator is also being developed with a 50kW power supply.

Author: John Maxwell

Source: School of Engineering | STI

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