The zero-impact data center sector is growing rapidly, and green solutions are proliferating: from plants under the sea to bricks of algae, hemp and fungal fibers that capture carbon, from printed circuit boards with renewable materials, including biodegradable plastics, artificial intelligence, robotics and circular energy.
Data center, how much do you consume?
There are 2,751 data centers operating in the United States alone, another 900 between Germany and the United Kingdom, 447 in China, about 130 in Italy, according to Statista estimates for January 2022.
There are 123 countries hosting at least one cloud data center. A total of 4,563 clouds were to be activated, of which 1,771 in the United States, 268 in the United Kingdom, 207 in Germany and 148 in France. Further behind is Italy with only 74.
This is the useful scenario to understand the level of energy consumption for such a comprehensive network of machines and networks and their CO2 footprint.
According to an article published in Nature, data centers are expected to consume 8% of the world’s electricity by 2030and reaches a level that will be 15 times higher than in 2018. World consumption today is 200 TWh per year.
Green innovation that starts with design
In recent times, technological innovation has made great strides in improving the energy efficiency of infrastructures, but the ecological transformation of this sector needs to be accelerated, which according to Grand View Research will maintain an average annual growth rate of + 13.3% until 2028.
In an article in the magazine ofAssociation of ComputersSamuel Greengard illustrated the latest regarding decarbonisation of data centersmostly based on the designas he explained Matteo Manganelli by our Enea, the national agency for new technologies, energy and sustainable economic development: “A model that requires new and better technologies“.
“The answers are likely to come from a mix of technologies and approaches“, he said instead Alessandro Soldatiresearcher in power electronics at the University of Parma in Italy, referring to systems that operate underwater, or that use hydrogen cells, or that are made of bricks made with algae and other latest organic materials.
The article provides some good examples of zero / low emission data center design and development.
The Natick project for data centers under the sea
There is Project Natick by Microsft, which created an underwater data center prototype located 120 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean in Orkney, UK. The idea is based on a 40-foot-long sealed pipe, filled with dry nitrogen (from which all moisture has been removed), designed to run 12 racks containing a total of 864 servers, along with the cooling system’s infrastructure water.
The system works with solar turbines powered by solar and wind energy cables, with high energy speed and operating efficiency (the criticality speed is equal to one-eighth compared to conventional terrestrial data centers, while the servers work better immersed in a dry atmosphere nitrogen than those exposed to oxygen).
“The data centers of the Natick project, located in parallel with nearby offshore renewable energy sources, could really be zero emissions and no waste products“, he clarified Rhoades Clarkspokesman for Microsoft.
The road to hydrogen
Then there is the green solution that uses fuel cell (fuel cell), which we can describe as an electrochemical unit that makes it possible to obtain electricity directly from hydrogen and oxygen without any thermal combustion process taking place.
This technology can eliminate the need for UPS systems and backup generators. ONE project proof-of-concept also developed by Microsoft in 2021 has shown that hydrogen could finally play a role in data centers, going so far as to replace a diesel generator that runs on hydrogen for more than 48 hours.
The Equinix company, on the other hand, is engaged in a project with low CO2 emission cells that could lead to a 100% decarbonisation of the data center through the use of natural gas and possibly hydrogen.
Nanotechnologies and data center solutions involving AI and IoT
There are those who think of refrigeration materials designed at the molecular level, such as those worked on by the materials science professor at the University of Singapore, Seeram Ramakrishna, where special nanotechnologies are used at the level of dehumidification systems with heat exchange. direct. contact and nanofiber membranes that act as electrodes for the newly developed fuel cells.
Other ideas involved using bricks of algae, hemp and mushroom fibers that capture carbon and printed circuit boards with renewable materials, including biodegradable plastics. Artificial intelligence, robotic technology and circular energy, which include heat distribution and the use of waste products for energy supply, could also introduce significant benefits, Ramakrishna stated.
Also on this list is Google, which has reduced the cost of data center cooling by 40% thanks to the use of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, robotics, machine learning and other analytical tools.
“Half of all energy consumed by data centers is used by servers for processing, the other half is used for cooling. It is important to focus on both aspects“, Finally added Manganelli.