Sustainability-in-Tech : World’s First Bio-Circular Data Centre

French data centre company, Data4, says its new project will create a world-first way of reusing data centre heat and captured CO2 to grow algae which can then be used to power other data centres and create bioproducts.

Why? 

The R&D project, involving Data4 working with the University of Paris-Saclay, is an attempt to tackle the strategic challenge of how best to reuse and not to waste / lose the large amount of heat produced by data centres. For example, even the better schemes which use it to heat nearby homes only manage to exploit 20 per cent of the heat produced

Also, the growth of digital technology and the IoT, AI, and the amount of data stored in data centres (+35 per cent / year worldwide), mean that those in the data centre industry must up their game to reduce their carbon footprint and meet environmental targets.

Re-Using Heat To Grow Algae 

Data4’s project seeks to reuse the excess data centre heat productively in a novel new way. Data4’s plan is to use the heat to help reproduce a natural photosynthesis mechanism by using some of the captured CO2 to grow algae. This Algae can then be recycled as biomass to develop new sources of circular energy and reusing it in the manufacture of bioproducts for other industries (cosmetics, agri-food, etc.).

Super-Efficient 

Patrick Duvaut, Vice-President of the Université Paris-Saclay and President of the Fondation Paris-Saclay has highlighted how a feasibility study of this new idea has shown that the efficiency of this carbon capture “can be 20 times greater than that of a tree (for an equivalent surface area)” 

Meets Two Major Challenges 

Linda Lescuyer, Innovation Manager at Data4, has highlighted how using the data centre heat in this unique way means: “This augmented biomass project meets two of the major challenges of our time: food security and the energy transition.” 

How Much? 

The project has been estimated to cost around €5 million ($5.4 million), and Data4’s partnership with the university for the project is expected to run for 4 years. Data4 says it hopes to have a first prototype to show in the next 24 months.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

Whereas other plans for tackling the challenges of how best to deal with the excess heat from data centres have involved more singular visions such as simply using the heat in nearby homes or to experiment with better ways of cooling servers, Data4’s project offers a more unique, multi-benefit, circular perspective. The fact that it not only utilises the heat grow algae, but that the algae makes a biomass that can be used to solve 2 major world issues in a sustainable way – food security and the energy transition – makes it particularly promising. Also, this method offers additional spin-off benefits for other industries e.g., through manufacturing bioproducts for other industries. It can also help national economies where its operated and help and the environment by creating local employment, and by helping to develop the circular economy. Data4’s revolutionary industrial ecology project, therefore, looks as though it has the potential to offer a win/win for many different stakeholders, although there will be a two-year wait for a prototype.

Tech News : Work Starts On £790m UK Google Data Centre

Work has started on Google’s first UK data centre which will cost $1 billion (£790m), will add to Google’s 27 data centres worldwide, and will support its move into AI.

Crucial Compute Capacity 

The data centre is being built on a 33-acre site at Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire. In addition to the construction and technical jobs that Google says the building work will bring to the local community, Google says its investment in the data centre will deliver “crucial compute capacity to businesses across the UK, supporting AI innovation and helping to ensure reliable digital services to Google Cloud customers and Google users in the UK and abroad.” 

Google says that its investment in the technical infrastructure needed to support innovation and tech-led growth in areas like AI-powered technologies is vital, hence the new data centre.

Off-Site Heat Recovery 

Google is also keen to highlight how the data centre’s carbon footprint will be minimised. For example, in addition to the company’s goal to run all its data centres and campuses completely on carbon-free energy (CFE) by 2030, it says the new data centre in Hertfordshire will “have provisions for off-site heat recovery”. 

Data centres produce large amounts of heat and so an off-site heat recovery system is a way for energy conservation that benefits the local community through capturing the heat generated by the data centre and using it in nearby homes and businesses. Google also says the data centre will have an air-based cooling system, presumably rather than a water-based one.

Part Of A Continued UK Investment 

Google has highlighted how the new data centre is part of its continued investment in and commitment to the UK which it says is “a key country for our business and a pioneering world leader in AI, technology and science.”

Other recent Google investments in the UK (in 2022) include:

– A $1bn purchase of our Central Saint Giles office in London’s West End.

– A 1 million sq. ft. Office and local innovation hub in King’s Cross.

– The launch of an Accessibility Discovery Centre in London, aimed at boosting accessible tech in the UK.

Google is also keen to highlight its free digital skills training, offered across the UK since 2015, and the expansion of its Digital Garage training programme in the UK (including a new AI-focussed curriculum).

UK Government Pleased 

Prime Minister Sunak, who’s been keen to woo big tech companies to the UK to support its ambitions to be a major global tech centre, has welcomed Google’s $1 billion data centre investment as an endorsement of this. He also highlighted how such “foreign investment creates jobs and grows all regions of our economy and investments like this will help to drive growth in the decade ahead.”  

Also, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, has expressed that he is “delighted to see this investment from Google” and that it ”reflects the success of the UK tech sector, which is now the third largest in the world after the US and China – worth over $1trillion and double the size of anywhere else in Europe.” 

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

The growth of cloud computing followed by the rapid growth of AI, which has a much bigger demand for computing power, plus the move by competitors into AI (Microsoft has announced an impending £2.5bn to expand data centres for AI across the UK) are key drivers for Google’s new UK data centre investment. The infrastructure is needed to support the AI which will in turn help boost productivity, creativity, and opportunities for UK businesses, and Google’s investment in the UK is good for job creation, boosting the economy, and bolstering the UK’s ambitions for being a tech centre.

However, Google is also reported to have been laying off many workers as it slims down to accommodate AI and, although the immediate community around Waltham Cross may benefit from some low-cost/free heat, there are other matters to bear in mind. For example, AI is an energy and thirsty technology and although there’s an ambition to run its data centres on carbon-free energy (CFE) by 2030, the Waltham Cross data centre should be finished and running by 2025. Like other data centres, it will still require huge amounts of energy (it shouldn’t need water too because it’s to be air-cooled), which is a matter that hasn’t been highlighted in the announcement about the investment so far. The impact on the local grid and environment, and the impact on the environment of the build itself may also be of concern.

That said, work is only just starting, more data centres are needed to fuel our AI-powered future, and there are no other good alternatives to this kind of expansion as yet so for UK businesses, the investment in the UK and its benefits are being welcomed.