World’s first tropical climate data centre testbed, led by NUS and NTU, will boost Singapore’s competitiveness in sustainable data centres

The flexible, full-scale ‘live’ data facility brings together researchers and leading industry partners to develop and demonstrate best-in-class, energy-efficient cooling technologies customised for tropical environments

The Sustainable Tropical Data Centre Testbed (STDCT) – the first of its kind for the tropical environment – hosted by the National University of Singapore’s College of Design and Engineering (NUS CDE) is up and running, marking a significant milestone in data centre (DC) innovation in Singapore.             

The groundbreaking initiative, led by NUS and the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore), is funded by the National Research Foundation in line with the Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2025 plan1 to position Singapore as a leading centre for green services and solutions to transform sustainable industries.             

Bridging the gap between research and practical applications, this pioneer initiative brings together the academia and industry partners to fast-track the adoption of innovative and sustainable DC cooling solutions tailored for the tropical climate. These collaborative efforts will set new sustainability standards for DC operations in the tropics.             

The STDCT, which is the key infrastructure that supports a cutting-edge national-level research programme on DC innovations, was officially launched today by Minister of State for Trade and Industry Mr Alvin Tan, in the presence of distinguished guests from the academia research community and industry.             

During the keynote address by Mr Tan, he expressed the importance of the STDCT facility in supporting “Singapore’s efforts in cutting-edge research on data centre innovation, and in growing data centres in a manner that is sustainable and aligned with our climate change commitments.” 

He added that, “In the long-term, the facility will also be a platform for other universities and companies to validate new DC solutions. This will enable the industry to have wider adoption of best practices for sustainable tropical DCs.”             

DCs are the backbone of the digital economy, and they are power-hungry facilities with a large appetite for electricity, especially for those located in hot and humid climates such as Singapore. On average, about 40 per cent of a DC’s energy consumption goes into powering its cooling and ventilation systems. Efficient cooling technologies, which the STDCT will be pioneering, are therefore essential for reducing operation costs and lowering the environmental impact of DCs.             

Mr Ni De En, Director, Urban Solutions & Sustainability, National Research Foundation, said “The Sustainable Tropical Data Centre Testbed brings together researchers and companies to drive innovations in cooling technologies and improve the sustainability of data centres in our region. Such industry R&D platforms accelerate the translation and commercialisation of research, in support of our climate goals.”             

Professor Liu Bin, NUS Deputy President (Research and Technology), said, “NUS is excited to host the Sustainable Tropical Data Centre Testbed on our Kent Ridge campus. This is an unprecedented initiative that aligns seamlessly with Singapore’s Green Plan 2030 and reinforces the nation and NUS’ commitment to sustainability. The STDCT programme, jointly led by NUS and NTU in close partnership with the industry, has been fostering a thriving ecosystem for innovative cooling ideas to flourish. The opening of the testbed facility today will accelerate the creation and translation of game-changing DC cooling technologies that are well-suited for tropical urban settings like Singapore, further advancing the sustainability efforts of the DC sector locally and beyond.”             

Professor Lam Khin Yong, NTU Vice President (Industry), said, “The commissioning of the Sustainable Tropical Data Centre Testbed marks a pivotal moment in the evolution of data centre operations in tropical climates. Led by NTU and NUS, in close collaboration with industry, it presents a sustainable solution for the operation and maintenance of data centres. It also reflects NTU's strong commitment to mitigating our impact on the environment, which is one of humanity’s grand challenges that we seek to address through our NTU 2025 strategic plan. As the world's first tropical climate data centre testbed, the STDCT sets a new standard, not just for Singapore but as a global benchmark for the intersection of cutting-edge technology, environmental responsibility, and operational efficiency in data centre infrastructure.

Key infrastructure for DC innovations in the tropics 

The STDCT is an infrastructure that supports a comprehensive research programme to develop cooling solutions for the sustainable operation of DCs in the tropics which was initiated in June 2021. Since the programme’s inception, 20 industry collaborators have contributed state-of-the-art technologies and are actively engaged in technology co-development. (Please refer to the Annexe for the list of industry partners). 

To date, the STDCT has attracted more than S$30 million in investments for the five research projects led by scientists from NUS and NTU in collaboration with industry partners. STDCT has also received support from the Infocomm Media Development Authority. 

The testbed facility provides a platform for co-innovation, capitalising on the synergy between academia and industry to generate important discoveries and transformative advancements that would benefit the tropical DC sector.

Setting new standards for tropical data centre operations  

The STDCT stands as a flexible, full-scale live facility that combines cutting-edge research and real-world application. Occupying a floor area of 770 m2, this is a living lab for scientists to experiment and validate innovative cooling ideas, and it also serves as a de-risking platform for companies to test and optimise new technologies in a realistic, tropical setting.  

“The new testbed facility supports five research projects under the STDCT programme. These projects involve conducting holistic assessments to identify opportunities to raise the recommended temperature of conventional DCs, identifying the ‘sweet spots’ for sustainable cooling solutions, and integrating these technologies for optimal performance,” explained STDCT Programme Director Associate Professor Lee Poh Seng, who is from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at NUS CDE.  

“Since its inception in 2021, the STDCT research projects have made significant progress and we are well on-track to realise the goals of the programme and make an impact,” commented STDCT Programme Co-Director Professor Wen Yonggang, who is also Associate Vice President (Capability Building) at NTU.  

Ultimately, the STDCT programme aims to demonstrate the following outcomes in a tropical setting by mid-2024:

  • Reduce energy consumption by up to 40 per cent 
  • Reduce water usage by 30 to 40 per cent 
  • Reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 40 per cent to less than 0.54 million tons per year 
  • Achieve Power Usage Effectiveness2 (PUE) of less than 1.2 for a combination of air and liquid cooling (This is below the current requirement of 1.3 set by the Singapore government, and the global average of 1.5 in 2022.)

A whitepaper will also be developed to provide recommendations on optimum DC design and operations, and this is expected to be released in the fourth quarter of 2024.

Innovative cooling solutions designed for the tropics    

The STDCT will support five research projects.    

Three projects will focus on the development of cutting-edge cooling technologies. A research team led by NUS is designing a unique heat sink coupled with immersion cooling for enhanced cooling performance. Another NUS team is pioneering the world’s first direct chip hybrid cooling system, which consists of a high-performance hybrid sink design with two modes of cooling – air and liquid cooling. The third NUS team is validating the potential of a novel cooling solution that uses a high-performance hygroscopic material to significantly improve cooling efficiency.    

In tandem, scientists from NTU are leading two research projects: one project aims to establish the optimum temperature and humidity setpoints for air-cooling of data centres in the tropics, and the second project will develop a digital replica, i.e., digital twin, for multiple innovative cooling technologies of the testbed facility, to enable real-time performance modelling and prediction, and empower AI-based optimisation toward energy efficiency and sustainability.    

Talent Development    

The STDCT programme not only addresses the immediate demand for sustainable DC operation practices in the tropics, but also nurtures talents to prepare the industry for future growth.    

STDCT will establish strategic partnerships with industry standards organisations and leading corporations to provide learning opportunities for students and industry practitioners. These programmes are expected to be offered through the NUS School of Continuing and Lifelong Education in 2024.    

For a start, STDCT has offered 2 scholarships, which are supported by industry partners, to groom local talent in related fields such as AI-based digital twin and advanced liquid cooling systems.

[1] The Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2025 plan by the National Research Foundation is a strategic roadmap shaping Singapore’s research and innovation activities over a five-year period. The RIE2025 aims to enhance Singapore’s scientific foundation, broaden its innovation and enterprise ecosystem, as well as scale up technology translation and strengthen enterprise innovation capabilities.

[2] PUE value of 1.0 signifies optimal power usage efficiency.