John Abraham pointing to a blackboard.

In the News: John Abraham on China’s First Underwater Data Center

John Abraham, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of St. Thomas, recently spoke with New Scientist about China’s new underwater data center that should cut power usage and carbon emissions.

From the story:

An underwater data centre that harnesses the ocean’s natural cooling capability is taking shape near China’s Hainan Island in the South China Sea. Keeping computers cool can slash power usage and carbon emissions, and this project could pave the way for putting supercomputers and data farms underwater.

The first phase of construction is nearing completion with a 1,300-tonne watertight cabin installed on the shallow seafloor, according to the Chinese state broadcaster CGTN. The report described the project by as “a step toward the world’s first commercial data centre under the sea” with 100 such cabins being planned for deployment.

“Big data centres are warehouses that have racks and racks of computers that all have to be cooled, and there are really expensive ways of cooling them using huge air conditioners,” says John Abraham at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. “The nice thing about seawater is that water is much better at transferring heat than air.”

This combines traditional cooling systems for the computer servers within each cabin – which still use electricity – with a passive seawater cooling system located on top of each cabin. That design could be 40 to 60 times more energy efficient than typical land-based data centres, according to Highlander.

“With AI and the number of graphics processing units that are being put in [data centres] and cloud-based storage, the demand for cooling is going to rise tremendously into the future,” says Abraham. “This could be a breakthrough technology that allows us to navigate the rollout of even bigger data farms.”