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Cool solutions for hot problems

Cool solutions for hot problems

Corporations like Facebook contain massive data centers that must remain cool to operate effectively. Mechanical and aerospace engineering Professor Dereje Agonafer explores how these facilities can become more energy efficient.

Dereje Agonafer is trying to make companies like Facebook and Verizon cool—literally. The mechanical and aerospace engineering professor is researching ways for massive data centers to be more energy efficient.

This is an increasingly important concern for large companies, as data centers are vital pieces of equipment that require huge amounts of energy to run. To put it into perspective, the energy spent powering these facilities is more than 2 percent of the total national energy expenditure—enough to power a couple of large cities for a year.

“If we could find a way to address the cooling design issues, we would be helping the environment and providing millions in savings for companies,” Dr. Agonafer says.

His research focuses on finding better ways to cool data centers, to make their air flow more economical, and to create sustainability savings. He also plans to test the effects of airborne contaminants on data center equipment, as well as the design of novel cooling technologies for high-power servers.

The project complements UT Arlington’s ongoing work with the Industry/University Cooperative Research Center in Energy-Efficient Electronic Systems, a National Science Foundation (NSF) consortium that is collaborating on clean solutions to pressing energy problems. The group comprises UT Arlington, Binghamton University, and Villanova University, along with 15 companies, including Facebook, Microsoft, General Electric, Verizon, Comcast, and CommScope. Binghamton serves as the main research center for the group, with each campus working on separate projects.

Agonafer says one reason the NSF included UT Arlington is that the University has all the components for this type of research: outstanding graduate students, an electronic cooling lab, a nanofab facility, a strong materials science research facility, and a commitment to build a research-based data center facility (currently under way).

He believes additional benefits result from UT Arlington’s collaboration with these corporations.

“Working with these businesses gives us leverage into implementing our research activities in the marketplace. Those are some big names in data. We’ve had a longtime relationship with CommScope, and Facebook thought enough of our research to pledge $50,000 for the first year of our work, with the possibility of up to five years of additional funding. In addition, since the start of the consortium, we have already added Mestex as a full member and are currently having discussions with other companies.”