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APAC consortium to study feasibility of ocean data centres

Concept could revolutionise the real estate game of data centres as well as how assets are powered and cooled using seawater, “the world's most abundant resource”.

By João Marques Lima

Co-founder and Editor, The Tech Capital

3 Mins

September 22, 2021 | 4:18 AM BST

Data centre operator Big Data Exchange (BDx), the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Engineering (NUS Engineering), and Sembcorp Marine have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to explore the feasibility of developing sustainable ocean data centres.

Under the MoU, BDx will provide the data centre arrangement as well as the technical proposal and operational strategy, whilst NUS Engineering will supply its cooling technology along with metrics for meeting relevant energy efficiency targets, and Sembcorp Marine will contribute an offshore platform solution.

BDx, NUS Engineering and Sembcorp Marine join a small group of private companies developing the concept of ocean data centres. If successful, it could ignite a new era for data centre development, going from terrestrial real estate to underwater locations.

Associate Professor Lee Poh Seng from the NUS Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Executive Director of the Energy Studies Institute at NUS, said: “We are pleased to study the feasibility of deploying our patented liquid cooling technology for this exciting development of offshore data centres that could be powered and cooled using seawater, the world’s most abundant resource.”

BDx, NUS Engineering and Sembcorp Marine said they will also promote joint research and development activities of mutual interest and benefit in the areas of sustainable ocean data centres.

Ocean data centres are not, however, a completely new concept and have been tested in past.

Microsoft has been a frontrunner here having tested a shipping-container-size data centre deployed on the seafloor off Scotland’s Orkney Islands between 2018 and 2020. The idea was originally spoken internally at Microsoft in 2014 during ThinkWeek, an event that gathers employees to share out-of-the-box ideas.

In its post-experiment report, Microsoft said: “More than half the world’s population lives within 120 miles of the coast. By putting data centres underwater near coastal cities, data would have a short distance to travel, leading to fast and smooth web surfing, video streaming and game playing.

“The consistently cool subsurface seas also allow for energy-efficient data centre designs. For example, they can leverage heat-exchange plumbing such as that found on submarines.

“Microsoft’s Project Natick team proved the underwater data centre concept was feasible during a 105-day deployment in the Pacific Ocean in 2015. Phase II of the project included contracting with marine specialists in logistics, shipbuilding and renewable energy to show that the concept is also practical.”

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Co-founder and Editor, The Tech Capital

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