Test centre to pioneer green and efficient cooling solutions for tropical data centres

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The National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore), together with key stakeholders in Singapore’s data centre industry, have established a $17 million research programme to develop innovative and sustainable cooling solutions for data centres located in tropical locations.

A testbed facility will be set up in NUS to promote co-creation and demonstration of advanced cooling technologies. The new Sustainable Tropical Data Centre Testbed (STDCT), the first of its kind in the tropics, will serve as an innovation hub for the academia and industry to work together to future-proof the region’s data centre industry. Curated by the Cooling Energy Science and Technology Singapore (CoolestSG) Consortium hosted at NUS, this programme will see researchers develop and demonstrate energy-efficient cooling technologies to achieve breakthroughs in the tropical data centre environment. The testbed facility is expected to be operational by the start of October.

Growing demand for efficient and sustainable data centres

The rise of the digital economy has led to growing demand for data centres that house computing and data storage infrastructure. As computer servers generate a lot of heat, these data centres are currently air-cooled at temperatures between 23 and 27oC, and at ambient humidity of 50 to 60 per cent as the industrial practice.

Maintaining such controlled environments require high energy consumption, resulting in high cost and carbon emissions, particularly for tropical countries like Singapore. Singapore supplies about 60 per cent of the data centres located in Southeast Asia. Data centres in Singapore consume almost seven per cent of the country’s total energy needs, a figure projected to reach 12 per cent by 2030. Thus, there is increasing need to reduce power consumption and carbon footprint in packing more computing power within the same floor area, while developing solutions to sustain the cooling demands of data centres.

“Data centres are the backbone of the digital economy, and they require constant cooling for optimal operations,” Professor Low Teck Seng, NRF’s chief executive officer, said. “The new Sustainable Tropical Data Centre Testbed will accelerate the development and test bedding of innovative and sustainable solutions for data centres, towards commercial deployment. As part of our Energy Grid 2.0 programme, the testbed facility will also support Singapore’s journey towards becoming a low-emissions economy.”

The STDCT and its research activities will be jointly led by programme director associate professor Lee Poh Seng from the NUS Department of Mechanical Engineering, together with professor Wen Yonggang, associate dean (research) at NTU’s College of Engineering.

“Data centres are a critical enabler of the digital economy, but the average data centre can exert a significant environmental burden,” professor Chen Tsuhan, NUS deputy president (research & technology), said. “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. NUS is excited to lead the new STDCT, which is a timely initiative that brings together the capabilities and experience of the academic community and the industry to achieve a common goal of co-developing new technologies to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions of tropical data centres, while optimising their operations’,”

NTU’s senior vice president (research) professor Lam Khin Yong, explained that data centres are the backbone of Singapore’s national digital transformation, and there is a need to improve their energy efficiency and sustainability as Singapore continues to grow as a data centre hub. “On the NTU Smart Campus, our scientists have pioneered award-winning artificial intelligence technologies to tackle these challenges as part of the NTU 2025 strategic plan and will adapt them for trials at the Sustainable Tropical Data Centre Testbed. The initiative is a national open innovation platform where academia and industry players jointly develop and testbed new cooling technologies that will benefit the entire data centre ecosystem.”

Cutting-edge infrastructure

The STDCT will be housed on NUS Kent Ridge campus. The facility will house a novel desiccant-coated heat exchanger design, and a StatePoint Liquid Cooling System (SPLC). The SPLC, developed by Nortek Air Solutions in partnership with Facebook, helps data centres operate more efficiently in tropical locations.

The combination of these technologies will enable a more energy-efficient cooling solution for buildings in a tropical climate which make use of ambient air that is otherwise hot and humid. Innovative chip-level hybrid cooling will be adopted to keep the servers cool. Smart operation of these technologies using Artificial intelligence (AI), with the digital twin capability, will not only be more water and power efficient, but will also ensure the longevity of the data centre’s equipment and servers in the long run.

This flexible and full-scale live data facility enables the identification of potential operational risks of the solutions being tested, so that de-risking measures that are well-suited for the tropical climate can be designed. The STDCT will be part of the NUS Living Laboratory, a strategic initiative to transform NUS into a major testbed for pilots and trials at a scale that has not been possible in the past. This will facilitate the translation of scientific discoveries in the laboratory into useful technologies and capabilities for solving real-world problems and industry applications.

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