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Oregon BEST Helps Advance Energy-Saving Cooling System for Data Rooms

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October 18-20, 2023 / Tucson, AZ
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The Story

PORTLAND, Ore. ­ As sprawling server farms and increasing numbers of data rooms consume more and more energy for critical cooling, a commercialization grant from Oregon BEST, in partnership with the Portland Development Commission (PDC), is helping the City of Gresham implement and test an innovative, Oregon-developed cooling system that could cut energy costs associated with cooling data rooms by as much as 70 percent.

The project also includes funding from the U.S. Dept. of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) and the Energy Trust of Oregon.

Developed by Gresham startup IT Aire, the system eliminates energy-hungry refrigeration compressors commonly found in Computer Room Air Conditioning (CRAC) units. Instead, the system uses indirect evaporative cooling, efficient fans, sensors and very few moving parts, all of which results in 70 percent energy savings over legacy CRAC units, company officials say.

Data rooms are consuming a growing percentage of the power on the U.S. electrical grid, and the increasing use of digital tablets, smartphones and digital streaming are driving this growth, according to IT Aire owner David Neketin.

The $40,000 Oregon BEST grant leveraged an additional $67,000 from the PDC and $8,250 from the Energy Trust of Oregon. The PDC funding is part of a $1 million Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge grant received from the EDA. The combined support will fund testing and data analysis by Oregon State University’s Energy Efficiency Center (EEC) at the City of Gresham’s data room. It will also fund, in partnership with the City of Gresham, installation of an IT Aire system in the data room that will be compared to the City’s current cooling system.

“This funding comes at an ideal time because we have potential customers like Intel, Xerox and others who are very interested in our technology but want to see third-party test results from a real installation,” Neketin said. “We’re confident our system can save the City of Gresham 75 percent of its data room cooling costs, and this grant will enable us to prove that and attract new customers.”

A small startup, IT Aire was struggling to fund the third-party testing required by potential customers, Neketin said. Part of the grant funding will support OSU researchers instrumenting the Gresham data room with wireless sensors to monitor energy use, inside and outside temperature, humidity and airflow. The researchers will test the new system against the current CRAC system to determine actual efficiency and cost savings.

“We met with IT Aire when the company was in its infancy, and I knew then they were working with a game-changing idea,² said Gresham Mayor Shane T. Bemis. “These types of local entrepreneurial ventures represent our great hope for the economy. I¹m thrilled that Gresham can play an important role in their growth and development.”

Karl Haapala, an assistant professor in the OSU School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, says the project also benefits OSU.

“This type of grant is very beneficial for everyone, and none of it would have been possible without Oregon BEST,” said Haapala. “The graduate student on the project gets real-world experience working with both an industry partner and a government agency. IT Aire gains access to technical expertise and receives a report they’ll be able to show potential customers. And the OSU Energy Efficiency Center and my research team have another set of tools and skillsets to bring to bear on other projects.”

³We are thrilled to lead the region forward and support this game-changing project,² said PDC Executive Director Patrick Quinton. ³This is a true partnership with all levels of government, the private sector and higher education working cooperatively toward a common goal.²

Joseph Junker, Director of the EEC, said the project comes at a good time. “With IT systems representing a growing energy-intensive sector, this project puts our center in a good position to participate in dialing in the best technologies and practices for achieving optimal operating efficiencies,” he said.

The IT Aire system is also designed to achieve redundancy without adding the costs often associated with backup cooling systems. Each functional section utilizes redundant components operating at peak efficiency to perform the work, but has enough reserve capacity to deliver full capacity in the event of a single component failure, Neketin said

The Oregon BEST grant is part of $1.9 million in Commercialization Grants that Oregon BEST has awarded in the past 18 months to speed commercialization of the state¹s most promising clean technologies being developed by university researchers and private businesses.

“This is another exciting project that fits our mission of helping Oregon-based clean technology companies speed their new products to the marketplace with the help of research expertise from Oregon’s universities,” said David Kenney, President and Executive Director of Oregon BEST. “And in this case, we’re thrilled to be collaborating with the Portland Development Commission and the City of Gresham to leverage even more support for energy efficiency.”


About IT Aire http://itaire.com

By challenging old assumptions, IT Aire has gone beyond the “trying to make current cooling technology work” to an innovative new system design that adapts to the data-center cooling requirements no matter how light or dense a data center load. IT Aire provides services from evaluation of existing data room cooling systems and consultation for optimization to a complete design and installation of an IT Aire system.


About Oregon BEST http://oregonbest.org
The Oregon Built Environment & Sustainable Technologies Center (Oregon BEST) is the nexus for clean technology innovation, building capability, convening collaborations, and accelerating solutions to environmental challenges that deliver prosperity in all corners of Oregon. Oregon BEST brings together Oregon¹s significant R&D strengths in clean technology to support the commercialization of new products and services. Since establishment in 2007, Oregon BEST¹s 210-plus Member Faculty have generated more than $90 million in research revenue from federal, industry and foundation sources to Oregon. At its four partner universities (Oregon Institute of Technology, Oregon State University, Portland State University, and University of Oregon), Oregon BEST has established a network of seven shared-user research facilities. Oregon BEST Commercialization Grants are awarded to collaborations between entrepreneurs and Oregon BEST member faculty at partner universities.


About City of Gresham GreshamOregon.gov/sustainability

The City of Gresham is committed to building sustainable practices for City operations that help Gresham attract green industry and bring stable jobs that can grow with the changing economy. The City¹s efforts include: purchasing green power for City facilities, fueling fleet cars with biodiesel, powering the City¹s Wastewater Treatment Plant with a cogenerator and installing one of the largest ground mounted solar arrays at the plant. The City was one of the first cities named a Green Power Community by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2008.


About the OSU Energy Efficiency Center http://eec.engr.oregonstate.edu
The Oregon State University Energy Efficiency Center houses the OSU Industrial Assessment Center, offers Rural Energy Audits, OSU facility assessments and other customized assessments. The center focuses on mentored energy efficiency training, performs related research, data accumulation and analysis and offers other related services. The EEC has the goal of developing and sharing a knowledge base of new and common efficiency opportunities in a range of sectors, including industrial, agricultural, municipal, institutional, commercial and residential. The center is built on student management with faculty mentorship and oversight.


About the Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge commerce.gov/JIAC2011
The inaugural Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge, launched in May 2011, was a multi-agency competition designed to support the advancement of 20 high-growth, regional industry clusters. Investments from three federal agencies and technical assistance from 13 additional agencies will promote development in areas such as advanced manufacturing, information technology, aerospace and clean technology.

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