New partnership to build sustainable data centres

Bechtel Enterprises and Nautilus Data Technologies are aiming to help transform the environmental footprint of the data centre sector by building data centres which use 70 per cent less power for cooling and eliminate the consumption of drinking water. They also hope to close the digital divide by deploying to cities, rural communities and developing economies around the world.

Peter Nelson, director of infrastructure development at Bechtel Enterprises says that, as demand for data centre facilities continues to grow, so does the demand for the resources necessary to power and cool them. “Data centres support critical aspects of local, regional and international economic development,” he says. “Our partnership with Nautilus provides a much more environmentally sustainable solution that means we can help our customers meet soaring digital needs responsibly.”

One of the ways they hope to achieve their objective is by the deployment of Nautilus’ Total Resource Usage Effectiveness (TRUE) technology, a patented closed-loop water cooling system that uses naturally cold water to keep server racks cool. This consists of a combination of maritime and industrial cooling methods that use 70 per cent less power than traditional computer room air-conditioning used for cooling, leading to a more than 30 per cent new reduction in energy-related CO2 and air pollution.

The system uses naturally cold water from rivers, lakes and bays, and returns all of it to its source after use. This is a dramatic improvement over the massive amounts of water – typically drinking water – consumed by evaporative cooling systems currently used by data centres. The system delivers additional environmental improvements including no refrigerants, no chemicals, no wastewater, no noise, and no harm to fish and wildlife.

This technology is already deployed at Nautilus’ own data centres, which enable and support the energy-intensive, high-performance servers needed for artificial intelligence and machine learning applications that are increasingly critical in smart city, smart transportation, smart grid, telemedicine, public health and security solutions.

“We are looking forward to working with the Bechtel team to transform the data centre sector on a global scale,” said Jake Connaughton, CEO of Nautilus.

“Through this partnership, we will deliver sustainable, high-performance data centre infrastructure and bring modern digital services to people around the world who need it most.”

The first of many projects that Bechtel and Nautilus are collaborating on was recently launched in Millinocket, Maine, USA, where the pair are hoping to construct a data centre which they say will be among the greenest in the world.

In a recent blog post, James Rogan, digital and future cities sector lead at Bechtel, says that the unique characteristic of the site, at an abandoned paper mill with existing hydropower, water utilities, and proximity to local and international fibre connections, is the perfect set-up for an energy efficient data centre.

“Data centres and the fibre that connects them to customers are a key asset in the race to close the digital divide, which Covid has intensified,” says Rogan. “The downside, however, is that data centres are large consumers of electricity and drinking water – they currently utilise three per cent of the world’s power, forecast to increase to seven per cent over the next decade, and consume an average of eight million gallons of drinking water per year per megawatt to cool the computers.

Nautilus’ TRUE technology will be employed at the cite, utilising the same cold, lake-fed water that the paper mill once used, to cool its servers. It will also run on 100 per cent renewable hydropower, and the design takes advantage of the natural elevation difference between the water inlet and the facility to reduce the need for pumping, which represents the main non-IT related energy use.

“It was really inspiring to be at the opening of what promises to be a cornerstone of the Millinocket community that will help breathe life back into what was once a very vibrant community. We’re already planning to use the discharged water from the data centre to support a proposed fish farm and herb farm that will also be built on the site, and look forward to continuing to engage with the local people to make this a success.”

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