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Putting the Brakes on Greenhouse Gases

University Engineering Teams Lead Effort to Improve Energy Efficiency at U.S. Data Centers

Putting the Brakes on Greenhouse Gases

Ask Villanova University Associate Vice President for Research and Graduate Programs Alfonso “Al” Ortega, PhD, to describe what goes on at the Center for Energy-Smart Electronic Systems (ES2) research lab each day, and the super-savvy engineering professor will startle you with an unexpected answer.

“The best way to understand what we’re doing at the ES2 Center is to read the Pope’s encyclical on global warming—an amazing document that reads like it could be our mission statement!”

According to Dr. Ortega, the 192-page papal encyclical (published June 18 under the title Laudato si’ On Care for Our Common Home) contains a passionately intense and beautifully written argument in favor of taking immediate steps to begin reducing needless energy consumption in order to help stave off the threat from global warming.

That is precisely the goal of ES2—a National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center that currently includes dozens of engineering researchers at four American universities (Villanova, SUNY-Binghamton, Georgia Tech and the University of Texas, Arlington).

A widely published expert on the management of thermal energy inside U.S. data centers and the director of the Villanova ES2 program, Dr. Ortega says he’s feeling “very hopeful about the way that more and more university engineering researchers are combining their expertise to reduce energy demands and cooling inefficiencies at our massive data centers, which contribute heavily to the greenhouse gases that trigger global warming.”  

In order to begin reducing consumption of electrical energy and wasted heat linked to giant computer complexes, the Villanova ES2 program is hard at work “researching and devising ‘smart systems’ that can use electricity more efficiently and prevent the waste through loss of heat that often occurs with computer usage.”

The Villanova ES2 team—which now includes more than a dozen researchers, from undergraduates to faculty members—has been a highly visible leader in the consortium in recent years.  Among the most promising of the Villanova center’s projects are a broad-based effort to develop computational and experimental models to improve cooling methods at big-data centers, and a complex thermodynamic study aimed at “Waste Heat Recovery and Reuse.”

The ES2 consortium also includes 22 major industry partners such as Bloomberg, IBM and Verizon, all of which are cutting-edge innovators in energy consumption. “These huge data centers are enormous producers of greenhouse gas,” says Dr. Ortega, while pointing to predictions showing they could add more than 340 million tons of the climate-destabilizing gas to the planetary environment by 2020, unless we get smarter about controlling energy usage. “But I’m an optimist by nature, and I believe we’re capable of preventing the effects of global warming by designing smarter data energy systems.”

At Binghamton University, meanwhile, Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Vice President for Research Bahgat G. Sammakia, PhD, a longtime national leader of the burgeoning ES2 program, says he “couldn’t agree more” with Dr. Ortega’s upbeat assessment of our energy-research future. “We’ve got a terrific national team working on the problem at ES2, and Villanova has been a major national leader in this ongoing quest to find solutions that will help reduce the threat from global warming.”