Recognising data centres’ contribution to a truly circular economy

Written By

Svein Atle Hagaseth
Chief Sales Officer

at

Green Mountain

According to Svein Atle Hagaseth, chief sales officer, Green Mountain we need to think bigger and bolder.

Data centres are the backbone of our modern digital society and our need for them is increasing rapidly. Nevertheless, they consume, and waste, a huge amount of energy. So, step one is of course to make sure data centres run on renewable power and have optimised energy use. But then, what is step two? As a company, we have a vision of data centres becoming a true contributor to the circular economy. The next solution is to ensure that waste heat from data centres is used for climate-positive business development.

A sustainable symbiosis

This is the idea: Based on the large amounts of waste heat data centres generate, we can create a symbiosis between different industries, where they use each other’s residual waste. The aim is to reduce and eventually eliminate the total CO2 emissions to the benefit of businesses, society, and the environment.

This can be done in several ways and at different scales dependent on given local factors. But let us present an example that was created by five Norwegian master students on behalf of the local energy company Lyse. The five students looked at an area planned/zoned for the energy-intensive industry. This area is in a traditional agricultural district outside Stavanger on the west coast of Norway.

The students first looked at 31 different industries, and by using an elimination method based on different evaluation criteria, they finally ended up with five different industries that fit perfectly together. These identified industries include biogas plants, fish farming on land, insect farming, algae production, and greenhouses.

The data centre is the key

It all starts with the data centre that produces residual heat which the other industries can use. In addition, the five industries can use each other’s input and output in their production cycles. For instance, the biogas plant can use livestock manure from agriculture and fish sludge from land-based fish farming to produce biogas. The biogas can in return be used in greenhouses, for insect farming or algae production. The latter two are more sustainable alternatives of animal feed for land-based fish farming by eliminating the need for long-distance transport of imported soy. In other words, it all fits together in a more sustainable cycle. These are just a few examples of how symbiosis can work.

A greater good

Establishing a cluster like this benefits both the environment, the community and the bottom-line of the participating companies. In the students’ medium-scale example, they calculated that the CO2 reductions alone corresponded to approximately the annual emissions of 2.5 million cars. In addition, hundreds of new jobs would be created as well as indirect jobs and positive ripple effects for the local business community. It is about shifting the whole mindset when establishing new industries. Instead of looking solely at your own business, you must look at how collaboration with other businesses can create a greater good.

The example in this article is adapted to the local conditions at the specific area, but the idea can be transferred to any other region. For instance, at Green Mountain’s data centre at Rennesøy, the world’s first land-based lobster farm will use the waste heat to grow lobsters more sustainably. Not only will we make use of the residual heat, but the lobster company will also save 30 per cent in operation costs.   In other words, there are endless opportunities if we as an industry dare to think bigger and bolder about data centres’ place in the circular economy.

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