UTA team exploring new technology to cool data centers

UTA-led project funded by $2.8 million award from Department of Energy

Friday, May 12, 2023 • Herb Booth : Contact

A University of Texas at Arlington engineering researcher has received a $2.84 million grant to develop a hybrid cooling technology that will aid high-power data centers and server farms.

Dereje Agonafer
Dereje Agonafer

The UTA grant is part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) COOLERCHIPS (Cooling Operations Optimized for Leaps in Energy, Reliability, and Carbon Hyperefficiency for Information Processing Systems) program, which awarded $40 million for 15 projects that will develop high-performance, energy-efficient cooling solutions for data centers.

Dereje Agonafer, UT Arlington Presidential Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE), said the grant will be used to develop a holistic novel hybrid cooling technology to address the growing need for advanced thermal management solutions and energy efficiency for data centers. The co-principal investigators for this grant are:

• Professor Damena Agonafer of the University of Maryland

• Professor Nenad Miljkovic of the University of Illinois

• Professor Sumanta Acharya of the Illinois Institute of Technology

Roger Schmidt, a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a renowned expert in liquid cooling, is a consultant on the project.

Dereje Agonafer a member of the National Academy of Engineering, leads two centers at UTA: the National Science Foundation Industry-University Cooperative Research Center in Energy Efficient Systems and the Electronics, Micro-electromechanical Systems and Nanoelectronics Systems Packaging Center. One of the goals of the project, he said, is to exceed COOLERCHIPS targets for information technology load at data centers, “resulting in cooling technology that will have extendibility for future generations of servers.

“The proposed hybrid cooling can save technology companies that employ the servers a massive amount of money in energy costs,” he continued. “In turn, that reduction in operating costs could be passed along to the consumer.”

Data centers account for approximately 2% of total U.S. electricity consumption, while data center cooling can account for up to 40% of data center energy usage overall, according to the DOE. The DOE’s selected projects—located at national labs, universities and businesses—seek to reduce the energy necessary to cool data centers. These efforts will lower the operational carbon footprint associated with powering and cooling this critical infrastructure and support President Joe Biden’s goals to reach net-zero carbon by 2050. The funding is supported by DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

“Climate change, including severe weather events, threatens the functionality of data centers that are critical to connecting computing and network infrastructure that power our everyday lives,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm in a DOE press release. “DOE is funding projects that will ensure the continued operation of these facilities while reducing the associated carbon emissions to beat climate change and reach our clean energy future.”

MAE Chair Erian Armanios said Agonafer “is on the cutting edge of thermal management efficiency. His research is essential to artificial intelligence, advertising cloud computing, computer software, computer hardware, internet, social media, virtual reality and, ultimately, everyday life.”

Agonafer has been working with large computer server companies for decades and is currently collaborating with Google, Intel, META, Microsoft and NVIDIA as well as several other companies in the general area of cooling of data centers. He is an honorary member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), AMSE Life Fellow, fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and life fellow of the National Academy of Inventors.

Since joining UT Arlington in 1999, he has mentored more than 250 graduate students, with 15 doctoral and five master’s students currently under his tutelage. In 2019, he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering.

Other awards include the 2008 Semi-Therm Thermi Award; the 2009 InterPACK Excellence Award; the 2014 Intersociety Conference on Thermal and Thermomechanical Phenomena in Electronic Systems Achievement Award; the 2014 National Society of Black Engineers Golden Torch Award; the 2019 ASME Heat Transfer Memorial Award; the 2020 SemiTherm Thermal Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award; and the 2020 Howard University Alumni Award for Distinguished Postgraduate Achievement.