FOCUS JAN2020: Research & Development

New perspectives below ground 30 Jan 2020

TunnelTalk reporting

The Swiss Center of Applied Underground Technologies (SCAUT) is an industry initiative with the aim of developing and using underground urban space in a more focused way. Its conceptual studies are used to analyse innovative uses of underground space from a technological and economic standpoint, while its technology projects are used to bring innovative technology to the point of readiness for application.

Storing data underground

Underground data centres are one of the innovative concepts being explored by SCAUT and its industry partners. As our world becomes increasingly digital, interlinked and intelligent, there is a rapidly increasing need for data collection, computing and storage. Automation, 5G, robotics, the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence enable many new applications and business models, but the volume of data produced will continue to grow exponentially. This has to be processed close to source, known as edge computing, due to – among other factors – efficiency and latency times. A lot of mini and micro data centres are needed to do this.

Prototype underground data storage centre
Prototype underground data storage centre

In 2017 about 10% of data was created and processed outside a centralised data centre and by 2022 this figure is expected to be 50%. More data will be processed at the edge of the network, while the hybrid deployment of cloud and centralised data centres will serve as data warehousing, business intelligence and big data. Edge computing is the necessity for businesses that rely heavily on real-time data processing such as building management, smart manufacturing, smart cities, offshore oil rigs, mining, hospitals, wearable health monitors, self-driving vehicles, 5G mobile communication and others.

With limited space above ground and increased prices of real estate in cities, SCAUT has developed the concept of Edge Computing Underground, and the first prototype for an underground data storage centre was opened in the Hagerbach test facility in Switzerland using underground rooms to house edge data centres. The concept was developed in collaboration with industry partners Datwyler Cabling Solutions and Amberg Engineering as a cost-effective, space-saving and secure solution for the challenges of the smart cities of the future.

"Even though we live in a dynamic world full of uncertainties, one thing is clear: the amount of data resulting from new technologies such as IoT will, to a large extent, have to be processed decentrally and partly underground," said Johannes Müller, CEO of Dätwyler Cabling Solutions.

Advantages of storing data underground include security, protection, keeping data close to source and putting existing derelict spaces to use. Stable climate conditions also mean low energy consumption.

"In the future, the vast majority of people will live in urban areas. The use of the third dimension not only upwards, but also underground will be an integral part of the urban development of smart cities," said Felix Amberg, President of the Amberg Group.

Underground green farming

Another example of innovative use of urban underground space is underground green farming. As areas available for farming become ever more scarce, the future of food supply could lie underground. Together with industry partners, SCAUT has developed and commissioned the first prototype for sustainable underground food production by using aquaponics. The industry consortium is composed of the partners Amberg Group, as specialist for the design and development of the underground space; AMP from France with special expertise in aquaponic systems; and the German company Pacelum, specialised in agricultural lighting.

Underground green farming concept
Underground green farming concept

The aquaponics system works in a cycle: The water from the fish tanks, which is enriched with nutrients via fish waste, serves as a food source for the plants and is then returned to the water cycle. The prototype in the test tunnel at Hagerbach consists of three areas – fish tank, salad culture in raised beds and biofilter plant. The fish are grown in two water tanks; optimised lighting, hydroponic gutters and tidal table systems are installed for growing vegetables; and processing of the fish water is done by means of a mechanical filtration followed by biological filters.

The aim is to develop a concept to overcome food shortages and achieve food security for mega cities and urban regions, while reducing the impact on the environment. The benefits also include short transport paths, fresh products, a recycling economy, and optimisation of production conditions. In the future, the use of underground space in urban areas should reduce the transport costs for food and the associated traffic volume as well as exhaust emissions. Furthermore, the constantly stable climatic conditions underground also reduce the CO2 footprint of cities, as less heating or cooling is required.

The project focuses on an interdisciplinary and comprehensive approach. It addresses the UN global goals for sustainable development and the concept of a circular economy. At the core is the idea of integrating urban needs and uses within underground space, thereby reducing impact on the urban environment. With this approach, the project won the 2019 ITA award for Innovative Underground Space Concept of the Year.

Demonstration and simulation in a real tunnel environment
Demonstration and simulation in a real tunnel environment

Digital system solutions

Providing the conditions for developing and testing new technologies, the Tunnel Digitalisation Center (TDC) at the Hagerbach Test Gallery allows demonstration and simulation in a realistic environment. Offering the unique opportunity to experience the interaction and transformation from real to digital in a real tunnel environment, innovative concepts can be demonstrated live at full scale, leading to a better understanding of complex operations and processes, as well as a high level of cost-efficiency.

The focus is put on cross-phase and cross-functional system solutions that cover the entire value chain and life cycle of tunnel systems – from planning with BIM and the subsequent structural work and electromechanical equipment, to the operating phase and digital maintenance services. In particular, the interaction of different partners can be demonstrated using shared use cases and presented live on site.

In addition to reducing complexity, the TDC focuses on saving time, optimising efficiency and increasing productivity. This goal is achieved with standardised, efficient engineering and a high degree of automation. As a result, tunnels can be put into operation earlier thanks to virtual commissioning, training and simulations. The high level of safety and optimised maintenance also enable the tunnel to be operated sustainably and permanently. The project is a joint initiative of SCAUT with industry partners Amberg Engineering, Siemens, Elkuch Group and HBI Haerter.


Add your comment

Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and comments. You share in the wider tunnelling community, so please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language professional.
In case of an error submitting Feedback, copy and send the text to
Name :

Date :

Email :

Phone No :

   Security Image Refresh
Enter the security code :
No spaces, case-sensitive