With massive machines like Frontier guzzling tens of megawatts of power to operate, datacenters’ energy use is of increasing concern for supercomputer operations – and particularly for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which both sponsors many of these large machines and (as the name implies) concerns itself deeply with energy use. Now, the DOE has announced up to $42 million in funding to overcome barriers in high-performance, energy-efficient cooling solutions for datacenters through a program called “COOLERCHIPS.”
COOLERCHIPS (which is an elaborate backronym for “Cooling Operations Optimized for Leaps in Energy, Reliability, and Carbon Hyperefficiency for Information Processing Systems”) will operate under the auspices of ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy) – the DOE’s advanced research agency for “high-potential, high-impact” experimental energy technologies. The program is predicated on carbon, not costs: through COOLERCHIPS, ARPA-E will fund projects that seek to reduce datacenter energy use and, in turn, lower the datacenters’ carbon footprints.
“Extreme weather events, like the soaring temperatures much of the country experienced this summer, also impact datacenters which connect critical computing and network infrastructure and must be kept at certain temperatures to remain operational,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm. “Creating solutions to cool datacenters efficiently and reduce the associated carbon emissions supports the technological breakthroughs needed to fight climate change and secure our clean energy future.”
Specifically, COOLERCHIPS is aiming to “reduce total cooling energy expenditure to less than 5% of a typical datacenter’s IT load at any time and any U.S. location for a high-density compute system.” (By way of contrast, they say that datacenter cooling can account for up to 33-40% of overall datacenter energy use.) The program aims to do this by “dramatically reducing the thermal resistance of heat rejection,” which, the program page says, would allow the coolants used in datacenters to exist closer to the operating temperatures of current-generation chips. Further, the program will work to achieve commercial competitiveness with current state-of-the-art solutions.
ARPA-E anticipates that the energy problems of datacenters are likely to increase over time if not addressed. “With chip manufacturing processes reaching fundamental limitations for scaling ever-smaller transistors, it is anticipated that processor power will rise, increasing datacenter power density,” the program site reads. “In addition, recent weather events have caused extreme heat, droughts, and other challenges, limiting the availability of sometimes scarce resources for cooling purposes. Cooling energy for data centers is significant today, and these trends make it an even more important energy area in the future.”
Applications for funding under COOLERCHIPS are now open at this link.