Materials scientists say they can counteract data centre energy consumption

16 Jun 2023

Image: © Matthias Haas/

Amber alert? SFI’s research centre Amber urged stakeholders to consider investing further in materials science following recent stats about data centres.

Materials science could hold the answers to questions that have been arising about data centres in recent times, say scientists in the field.

Scientists from Amber, the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) research centre for advanced materials and bioengineering, is calling for the views of its members to be taken into account in discussions around the controversial topic. Their appeal follows fresh figures released a few days ago by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) which said that 18pc of Ireland’s energy consumption can be traced back to data centres.

The electricity consumption by Irish data centres grew by 31pc last year, as existing sites consumed more electricity and new centres were added to the grid. In February, TikTok said it was going to open another data centre in Dublin, which would bring its total in Ireland to two.

The debate around data centres’ impact on the environment and energy consumption is not just happening in Ireland. Last year, for example, Meta paused the development of a data centre in the Netherlands following pushback from environmental campaigners.

Amber’s executive director, Dr Lorraine Byrne, said that investment in materials science could potentially promote innovation and methods of reducing data centres’ energy consumption levels.

“Innovation across everything from the computer chips in servers to building design to software will be required to reduce the energy consumption and carbon footprint of data centres. Materials science has an important role to play in this effort.”

Byrne pointed out that roughly 30-50pc of any data centre’s energy consumption goes into powering its cooling and ventilation systems. “By the development of advanced materials with superior thermal conductivity we can significantly improve heat dissipation and reducing the demands on HVAC systems,” she said.

“Ultimately, reducing the energy consumption and heat generation at an individual chip level will be an enabler for improving the energy efficiency of data centres.”

However, Byrne said these advancements will not be achieved without “significant innovation in materials, processing and device design, which in turn will require “greater investment, support, and political ambition right up to a European level to facilitate the materials research innovation.”

“At Amber, we are developing materials and process technologies to enable the next generation of computer chips which will integrate memory and logic in a single chip to reduce the power consumption,” Byrne explained.

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Blathnaid O’Dea was a Careers reporter at Silicon Republic until 2024.