Facebook has made a multi-year commitment to work with a UT Arlington engineer for a National Science Foundation project related to keeping massive data centers more energy efficient.

The Environmental Protection Agency has reported that the energy used in 2006 by the data center industry was 1.5 percent of the total nationwide energy usage. Experts agree that this usage will top 2 percent soon. As such, savings related to data centers’ efficiency could be in the millions for companies with large data centers such as Facebook.

UT Arlington’s Dereje Agonafer is part of a cooperative research center whose focus will be finding more efficient and greener ways to run giant data centers. Agonafer is a mechanical and aerospace engineering professor.

The University of Texas at Arlington is joining Binghamton and Villanova universities in forming the Industry/University Cooperative Research Center in Energy-Efficient Electronic Systems. Binghamton will serve as the consortium’s main center but each campus center will focus on various challenges in attaining energy efficiency.

Facebook is one of 15 companies signed up to be consortium members. Others firms include data heavyweights like Microsoft, General Electric, Commscope, Bloomberg, General Electric, Corning Inc., Endicott Interconnect Technologies, Emerson Network Power, Verizon and Comcast.

The consortium will focus initially on the data centers. Energy spent on running data and telecommunications centers in the United States is about 3 percent of the total national energy expenditure, which is enough to power a couple of good-sized cities for most of a year.

Facebook is pledging $50,000 in the first year of Agonafer’s research. That pledge is renewable for up to five years.

Agonafer said his focus would find better ways to cool data centers, ways to make air flow more economical, ways to create sustainability savings and determine effects of airborne contaminants on data center equipment.

“Working with these businesses gives us leverage into implementing our research activities in the marketplace,” Agonafer said.

Agonafer said just a small yield in efficiencies could translate to millions of dollars in savings because these companies’ computing centers are so large.

“Those are some big names in data,” Agonafer said. “We’ve had a longtime relationship with Commscope. Facebook thought enough of our research to contribute. Other companies could follow suit.”

He said one aspect that attracted the National Science Foundation to UT Arlington is that the University has all the components needed for this research. He said UT Arlington has an electronic cooling lab, a nanofab facility, the Automation Robotics & Research Institute, a manufacturing assistance center and an aerodynamics research center. He said all of those UT Arlington components could play a part in meeting some of the energy-efficiency challenges.

Veerendra Mulay, a consortium member from Facebook, said, “the consortium will play a key role in addressing cooling design issues in the dynamic data center business.”

The consortium will address energy-efficiency problems from across many disciplines, said Bahgat Sammakia, interim vice president for research at Binghamton University and the center’s director.

“The center will provide the kind of answers that leaders in the electronics industry are looking for,” Sammakia said. “Each of the center’s academic partners has expertise in a particular area and by tapping into these individual strengths, we will collectively find the answers to some of the industry’s most challenging practical problems.”