Microsoft ramps up efforts to decarbonise data centres
Microsoft has announced the company's goal of becoming carbon negative by 2030. They have stated that their first steps are “to ensure that our funding will maximise carbon being taken out of the atmosphere, we are doubling down on scientific verification of each project, and using this RFP to harvest and share best available science and market intelligence on carbon removal.”
A recent trial using fuel cells to power servers have revealed they could facilitate the goal to decarbonise data centres. The company has achieved a record in being the first to trial this innovative technology and succeed in powering a rack of data centre servers for a total of 48 hours.
These custom cells were designed by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory, are set to replace the existing diesel generators and are confirmed to be an economically viable alternative.
Behind the drive towards sustainability
Data centres are known to be energy-hungry and it is estimated that data centres on average use between 200 terawatt hours to 500 terawatt hours of electricity alone, equating to approximately 3.5% of the global energy demand in 2020. Data centres alongside cloud providers depend on generators powered by diesel which contribute negatively to the high levels of emissions and energy consumption.
Therefore, it is with these figures that Microsoft is dedicated to reducing their carbon consumption to zero while also eliminating its dependence on diesel. This will also help to reduce their scope 1 emissions.
In order to become carbon negative, Microsoft and its third parties, including NGO Winrock International and Carbon Direct, an advisory firm, are setting out to thoroughly investigate and vet each and every project.
As part of the companies pledge to become more sustainable, Microsoft's Climate Innovation Fund has made its first investment. Energy Impact Partner (EIP) is a global platform dedicated to reducing and promoting the decarbonisation and decentralisation of the energy industry.
Microsoft’s very own sustainability calculator has also recently been launched, using AI and advanced analytics to aid and provide organisations with insights into how they can reduce their carbon footprint.
The tech giant has also stated that “In the upcoming months, we’ll be working with our suppliers on a phased approach to develop a timeline, new ideas, tools and processes. This reporting is the first significant step toward helping our suppliers reduce their emissions in alignment with Microsoft’s goals of transparency in emissions reductions,”.
NUS and NTU launch cooling project for tropical data centres
The National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), have announced a project in an attempt to source and develop new cooling solutions for data centres located in tropical areas. According to the companies, the programme costs S$23mn (US$17.1mn) and plans to research, build and test innovative and sustainable cooling solutions.
The Sustainable Tropical Data Centre Testbed (STDCT)
The NUS and NTU say that the Sustainable Tropical Data Centre Testbed (STDCT) will act as a research point and innovation hub for the project. Facebook, along with the National Research Foundation Singapore (NRF), is also involved, providing funding for the programme. Further support from other partners includes the Infocomm Media Development Authority, Ascenix, CoolestDC Keppel Data Centres, Red Dot Analytics, and New Media Express.
Commenting on working with the companies, Facebook Vice President of Infrastructure, Alex Johnson, said: “We are excited about the opportunity to partner NUS, NTU, Keppel Data Centres and the CoolestSG community to develop innovative solutions that reduce the carbon footprint and energy consumption of the average data centre, particularly those located in tropical areas like Singapore”.
The NTU and NUS highlight that Singapore houses 60% of Southeast Asia’s total data centre market, and aims to supply 12% of the country’s total energy needs by 2030. This results in the need to reduce the carbon footprints and power consumption of data centres, meaning more innovative cooling solutions are required, the NTU and NUS said.
Professor Chen Thuan, Deputy President of Research & Technology at the NUS, said: “Data centres are a critical enabler of the digital economy, but the average data centre can exert a significant environmental burden. Aligned with RIE 2025, sustainability is a key research focus of NUS, and our researchers have deep expertise in developing integrated solutions for tropical, urban and Asian settings”.
How will the Sustainable Tropical Data Centre Testbed (STDCT) help to provide cooling solutions?
According to the NUS and NTU, the STDCT will be built using equipment such as a novel desiccant-coated heat exchanger and a StatePoint Liquid Cooling System (SPLC) designed by both Nortek Air Solutions and Facebook. The institutions also say they will adopt chip-level hybrid cooling to ensure servers remain cool.
Furthermore, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) will aim to manage the “smart operations” of the technologies so that the data centres are water and power efficient, as well as able to preserve equipment and servers.
The NTU and NSU said in a joint statement the combination of the cooling technologies could reduce energy consumption “significantly” and greenhouse gas emissions by up to 25%, compared to traditional air-cooled data centres. If adopted industry-wide across the entire tropical region, the energy usage of the data centre industry could potentially be lowered by at least 40%”, the companies said.
The STDCT is expected to be operational by 1 October 2021.