Nokia has announced Bell Labs was selected by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for OPEN 2021 funding to develop a highly efficient thermal energy architecture that will deliver a significant reduction in data center cooling energy, as well as capturing the waste heat for heating and cooling applications.
ARPA-E advances high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that are too early for private-sector investment to awardees that are developing entirely new ways to generate, store, and use energy. ARPA-E projects have the potential to radically improve U.S. economic prosperity, national security, and environmental wellbeing.
The announcement represents an extension of Nokia’s broader efforts to accelerate digitalization to help the information and communication technology (ICT) industry reduce its environmental footprint and to support other industries in becoming more resource and material efficient.
The increasing rate of digitalization and automation is driving compute systems and 5G communication networks to grow at incredible rates. AI algorithms are needed to deliver the growing range of digital services but require even more power-hungry compute hardware. Accordingly, cooling energy requirements are projected to grow from the current average of 30-40% of total power consumption preventing wider deployment of these new services and compounding the climate crisis that faces our world. The goal of this Nokia Bell Labs research program is a dramatic reduction in compute cooling energy to 5% or less with the additional benefit of eliminating the need to consume precious water supplies.
With ARPA-E support, Nokia Bell Labs and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign along with associate partners, including Carrier Global Corporation, will work together to explore a highly efficient, resource-conserving thermal energy architecture that will simultaneously improve energy efficiency of high-power-compute-cooling and deliver high-quality thermal energy that can be used directly for heating and cooling applications. By pursuing a low-cost, low-energy two-phase cooling philosophy from chip to room scale, the proposed technology will rearchitect compute infrastructure to provide a valuable heat source in a way that is practical and cost-effective.
Peter Vetter, President of Bell Labs Core Research, said: “At Bell Labs, we find the technology limits and push beyond them to tackle the hard challenges. Working with ARPA-E and our partners, we will look at how we can allow for sustainable growth. Our goal is to play a positive role in tackling climate change in the U.S. by reducing and re-using the energy flowing through the compute and communications hardware that delivers the digital services we all increasingly rely on. By using resources in a more efficient way, we will be able to increase our use of AI in our networks without requiring more energy than we use today.”
Nokia has committed to decreasing its emissions by 50% between 2019 and 2030 across its value chain. The targets includes its own operations, products in use, logistics, and final assembly supplier factories. Bell Labs has a long history of projects focused on improving energy efficiency, including inventing the first practical silicon solar cell in 1954. With broad applications beyond data centers, the project with ARPA-E will allow Bell Labs to continue supporting the United States’ technological lead and sustainability goals by developing and deploying advanced energy and ICT technologies.