Extending the Productive Lifetime for Scientific Computing Equipment
The rapid progress of computing technology and rapid turnover creates negative environmental impact through computing equipment e-waste. Because the growing computing capability is of critical importance to science, it is critical to find solutions. This NSF project's objective is to create extended lifecycle pathways for scientic computing equipment, and thereby increase scientific computing productivity per unit e-waste and carbon emissions.
A 2nd Life for Hardware
The opportunity to create extended life with reduced carbon emissions depends on the Zero-carbon Cloud Project's novel approach leveraging the growing excess renewable power power grids for low-cost power and low-cost operation. We are creating economic models of the extended lifecycles and broader ecosystem, documenting the significant economic incentives and potential positive impacts on e-waste and carbon footprint. We will connect scientific computing facility operators (universities, national laboratories, and more) with innovative new providers. Together, we will solve the practical challenges, and publish best practices and standard models for extended lifecycle engagements. This work is supported by the US National Science Foundation under NSF Grant OAC-2019506.


Total Cost of Ownership and Economic Modeling

Computing is critical for science (discovery), education and commerce, but there is increasing concern about the costs, climate impact and environmental impact of those capabilities. Today, many organizations follow a model, or usage pathway, of buy new, operate for five years and then decommission. We hope to identify alternative models that deliver greater scientific capability at lower cost to inform future practice and government investment. Specific questions being studied include:
  1. What pathways and lifetimes deliver the lowest-cost per compute capability?
  2. How do these approaches affect environmental impact? (scope 1-3)
  3. How do new options to operate equipment at low-cost, low-carbon data centers create new opportunities?
This is supported by the US National Science Foundation under NSF Grant OAC-2019506 as part of the Extending the Lifetime of Scientific Computing Project.

Data Collection: The Zero Carbon Cloud team is reaching out to a number of government funded computing facilities seeking the following information for computing systems:

  1. Capital costs
  2. Technical specifications
  3. Physical size and weight
  4. Power costs
  5. Space costs
  6. Information about power sourcing.

This data will be aggregated and used to perform analysis of current and potential pathways and lifetimes. No individual responses will be released, and care will be taken to avoid compromising individual responses and potentially sensitive information in aggregated results analysis. For more information, contact Prof. Andrew A Chien and Mark Dietrich .


  • BoF at PEARC20 (7/29/2020): How to Extend the Productive Lifetime of Scientific Computing Equipment (Chien, Runesha, Dietrich, and Gardner) (community outreach for the opportunity)
    1. Extended Lifetime Vision (Chien)
    2. Decommissioning SCE Survey Results (Runesha)
    3. Operating Intermittent Resources at High Productivity (Gardner)
    4. Datacenter and Vendor Opportunities (Dietrich)
  • Teams Workshops on Extended Lifetime for SCE (7/31/2020, 2pm CT). (Chien and Dietrich) (refine working models)
    • Registration for the Teams Workshop (closed). This workshop will have small working groups to identify challenges and work on solutions to make each of the models viable for a broad swath of the academic scientific computing community.
    1. Kickoff and Charge
    2. Working Groups - Reliable Green Colo, Intermittent Green Colo 1, Intermittent Green Colo 3...
    3. WG Output Models: Reliable, Greeen Compute (RGC); Intermittent, Green Compute - hardware (IGC1); Intermittent, Green Compute - services (IGC2)
    4. Final Report - Analyzes costs for all three models is now available! (10/22/2020)

Publications and Reports

  • Analysis of US National Science Foundation (NSF) Awards for Scientific Computing Equipment (SCE), 2013-2019. (Dietrich and Chien), Available as a UChicago Technical Report , July 8, 2020.
  • Scientific Computing Equipment (SCE) Decommissioning in the University Community, 2017-2023: A Survey of the Coalition for Advanced Scientific Computing (CASC) (Runesha, Dietrich, and Chien), Available as a UChicago Technical Report , July 8, 2020. and presentation slides.

More information on the Zero-carbon Cloud project can be found at: 2019 Overview and 2015 vision.
Questionaire: Assessing the extended-lifetime Opportunity for Scientific Computing Equipment (April 2020)
Please click HERE (link deactivated, June 2020) to fill out the Scientific Computing Equipment Opportunity questionaire.

Your responses will be held in confidence and aggregated to create a projection of the potential scale, economics, and scientific benefits of extended lifetimes.

The full survey report is available , July 8, 2020.

The Large-scale Systems Group (LSSG) is at the  University of Chicago's  Department of  Computer Science

LSSG is also affiliated with Argonne National Laboratory's   Mathematics and Computer Science Division. UChicago Logo Argonne Logo