Meet a startup trying to keep your screen time from destroying the planet

  • A data center somewhere is powering your online shopping and binge watching.
  • Data centers run 24/7 and consume vast amounts of energy and water.
  • Startups like JetCool are part of an estimated $2 billion industry seeking to cool microchips with liquid.

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Sending emails. Shopping online. Scrolling social media. Streaming Netflix.

These activities seem like innocuous ways to kill a few hours. Though we may never think about how much data we’re using, or the cloud it’s stored on, there’s an environmental toll

Our cloud usage is powered by a growing network of data centers in buildings filled with rows and rows of routers and servers. Demand is only expected to grow as companies lean on data analytics to make decisions and increasingly use AI

Data centers run 24/7 and consume vast amounts of energy and water, partly because of the giant fans and evaporative cooling required to keep temperatures low. In states including Virginia, Arizona, and Nebraska, utilities are considering or planning more gas-fired power plants to keep up with the continuous electricity demand.  

Hyperscaling data centers puts tech giants like Microsoft, Amazon, and Google in a tough spot when it comes to their goals of drastically slashing greenhouse-gas emissions this decade.

The problem has led to a hunt for greener data-center technologies. Among them is liquid cooling, which directly cools the tiny microchips central to electronic devices. Persistence Market Research has predicted that the industry’s valuation — estimated at about $2 billion in 2021 — will surge to $31 billion by 2032.

“We think to solve the biggest problem, you have to focus on the smallest pieces,” Bernie Malouin, the founder and CEO of the liquid-cooling startup JetCool, told Business Insider. 

Malouin spent eight years at MIT developing metal plates with hundreds of jets that push through a water-based coolant. These solutions, known as SmartPlates, sit on top of the microchips in computer servers to “surgically remove” the hot spots, he said. Water is a lot more efficient at absorbing heat than air.

Data centers have thousands of servers — just imagine how hot a room with thousands of microwaves would get, Malouin said.

JetCool’s technology could save data centers up to 15% of their overall power consumption, based on internal tests, the company said. A partnership with Sabey Data Centers last year demonstrated a 13.5% reduction in power use.  

It’d be expensive for existing data centers to implement a new cooling strategy, and Malouin said JetCool’s technology is better suited for new builds. 

Bloomberg reported in December that Microsoft was exploring liquid cooling for the future, especially because of AI’s massive computing requirements.

Malouin said JetCool was working with hyperscalers on data-center hubs for AI but declined to disclose which companies. Last year Dell launched servers with JetCool’s technology and the startup closed a $17 million fundraising round. 

Malouin said he sees a lot of potential in Europe, which recently updated its energy-efficiency law to encourage large data centers to limit their power and water use.

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Catherine Boudreau