COOLERCHIPS Project Heats Up Investments to Cool Down Data Centers

June 26, 2023 by Chantelle Dubois

The Department of Energy is shelling out $40 million to 15 groups proposing innovative data center cooling solutions.

Department of Energy project COOLERCHIPS recently announced 15 recipients of a collective $40 million in funding to advance data center cooling technology over one to three years.

COOLERCHIPS is an Advanced Research and Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) program that stands for Cooling Operations Optimized for Leaps in Energy, Reliability, and Carbon Hyperefficiency for Information Processing Systems. ARPA-E believes data center cooling technologies are a national concern, affecting: 

  • The security of critical data center infrastructure
  • The environment, including reducing CO2 output from energy consumption
  • The economics of data centers, such as waste heat recovery, maintainability, and operating costs



Image used courtesy of ARPA-E

An estimated 40% of data center energy consumption is currently dedicated to thermal management, which makes up 2% of the total electricity consumption in the U.S. The goal of COOLERCHIPS is to reduce the total energy expenditure of data center cooling by 5% for processing loads in any U.S. location.

Two of the world's largest chipmakers were among the 15 recipients of the award. Below we'll discuss Intel and NVIDIA's respective proposals for data center cooling along with the four most common technologies the other 13 recipients proposed to advance COOLERCHIPS. 


Intel Pitches Coral-like Heat Sinks

Intel is one of 15 recipients to receive funding from COOLERCHIPS, amounting to $1.71 million, to develop a two-phase immersion cooling system that will utilize 3D-printed, coral-like heat sink designs inside a 3D vapor chamber. The vapor chamber will also include innovative coatings that reduce thermal resistance.


A demonstration of an immersive cooling system

A demonstration of an immersive cooling system where the innovative coating results in water vaporization. Imaged used courtesy of Intel

The company is partnering with academia and industry partners and will provide the thermal test equipment to validate the designs. Intel will direct the overall research efforts and design decisions, focusing on reducing energy consumption from 0.025 °C/Watt to less than 0.01 °C/Watt.

NVIDIA’s Liquid-Cooling for Mobile Data Centers

NVIDIA received $5 million from COOLERCHIPS to develop a cooling system that can be used in a data center within a mobile container. The company's objective is to develop a system that can cool the mobile data center while drawing 200 kW when placed in a 104°F environment.


A 3D rendering of NVIDIA’s mobile data center

A 3D rendering of NVIDIA’s mobile data center. Image used courtesy of NVIDIA

NVIDIA's solution uses both a cold plate design and servers encased in hermetically-sealed containers immersed in a cooling solution similar to what is found in common refrigerators. The team intends to develop digital twins of their system in NVIDIA Omniverse.

NVIDIA’s step-wise approach is to perform component tests in 2024, a partial rack test in 2025, and a full system test at the end of the project.


Technology Tracks of COOLERCHIPS

Among the 15 recipients of the $40 million award, many groups focused on four technology tracks to tackle data center cooling:

  1. Secondary cooling loops transfer heat from servers to facilities that cool the water
  2. Two-stage cooling loops for modular and edge data centers transfer heat from the facility to the ambient surroundings
  3. Software-based solutions model energy efficiency, CO2 footprint, reliability, and cooling costs
  4. Supporting facilities validate the new technologies developed under tracks one and two

The majority of projects focus on liquid-based cooling solutions, with a small and somewhat equal subset focusing on either immersion-based cooling or software-based solutions.  A high-level summary of each project can be viewed on the ARPA-E website.

1 Comment
  • H
    Helen Duncan June 30, 2023

    Wouldn’t it be better to make the data centre more efficient so it generates less heat in the first place? Much of the energy wasted as heat is generated by unnecessary data movements between core and memory, which can be considerably reduced with a non-Von Neumann architecture.

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