The energy efficiency of computers could reduce data center electricity consumption

Researchers developed a technology to reduce energy consumption of photonic chips.


Silicon photonics is a useful platform for high-bandwidth, low-energy optical interconnects in data centers and high-performance computer systems. On-chip wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) optical interconnects are proposed to address the bandwidth density difficulty.

Oregon State University and Baylor University researchers have found a breakthrough in lowering the energy consumption of photonic circuits used in data centers and supercomputers. 

This is important as data centers require up to 50 times the energy of a conventional office building per square foot of floor area. 

A data center houses an organization’s information technology operations and equipment, as well as data and applications that are stored, processed, and distributed. According to the DOE, data centers consume about 2% of all electricity in the United States.

According to the United States International Trade Commission, data centers have increased dramatically as data consumption has increased.

There are more than 2,600 data centers in the United States, home to several businesses that generate and consume enormous amounts of data, including Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google.

It involves a brand-new, incredibly energy-efficient technique to account for temperature fluctuations that weaken photonic chips.

According to Conley. “These chips will form the high-speed communication backbone of future data centers and supercomputers..”

The innovation involves a brand-new, incredibly energy-efficient technique to account for temperature swings that harm photonic chips. The data transfer is rapid and energy-efficient thanks to photons, which are light particles.

The problem with photonic chips is that they require a lot of energy to maintain a constant temperature and great performance.

Wang’s group has demonstrated that minimizing the energy required for temperature control by more than 1 million is possible.

He said, “Alan is an expert in photonic materials and devices, and my area of expertise is atomic layer deposition and electronic devices. We made working prototypes showing temperature can be controlled via gate voltage, which means using virtually no electric current.”

According to Wang,Currently, the photonics industry, relies solely on “thermal heaters” to fine-tune the working wavelengths of high-speed, electro-optic devices and improve their performance. These thermal heaters each consume several milliwatts of electricity.

Researcher said, “That might not sound like much considering that a typical LED lightbulb uses 6 to 10 watts. However, multiply those several milliwatts by millions of devices, and they add up quickly, so that approach faces challenges as systems scale up and become bigger and more powerful.”

This technology is better for the environment since it allows data centers to become quicker and more powerful while consuming less energy.

Intel, NASA, and the National Science Foundation funded this study.

Journal Reference:

  1. Hsu, WC., Nujhat, N., Kupp, B., et al. On-chip wavelength division multiplexing filters using extremely efficient gate-driven silicon microring resonator array. Scientific Reports. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-023-32313-0
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