Did you know that data centers are already finding clever ways to reuse their excess heat? They are transforming this waste into a valuable resource with a little creativity and a big push for sustainability. You can make data center heat work for you—rather than against all of us—too!
Granted, the ways to go about this may sound a bit far-fetched. Using discarded data center heat to turn wood pellets into heated homes and feeding millions with farmed fish and produce may sound too good to be true. But, every day people are driving electric cars and recyclable rockets are being shot into space. Repurposing heat waste is far from impossible. And these are just some of the applications already earning revenue.
Data centers invariably reject heat from the servers. In traditional data centers, this heat is blown off into the air. These facilities blow large volumes of air over the servers to cool them, which then dissipates into the atmosphere as waste. Air is simply not a practical coolant for recycling heat (or for performance, for that matter).
New immersion cooling technology, like GRC’s, captures the rejected heat in a liquid coolant. This enables businesses to utilize that rejected heat for other purposes. Instead of piling onto the global warming problem, the heat now serves economical uses.
Liquid works far better than air—around three times better, actually—for reusing data center heat. Recycling heat with liquid cooling is therefore becoming a notable trend in advanced data centers, especially in colder climates where people have more uses for heat. This technique offers numerous benefits for the data center, for their partners who receive heat, and for the environment.
How does this work? Liquid-enabled data centers are finding original methods to reuse the rejected heat for their own organizations, or in partnership with others in the community. In some cases, the recycled heat goes to work directly within the data facility, while in other cases the heat feeds into a separate organization—or even aids an entire city.
Experts see liquid immersion cooling as a game-changer that makes heat recovery feasible for data centers. The sustainable technology not only captures more of the heat but also at higher temperatures and in a controllable format that has multiple industrial applications. This makes liquid the coolant of the future. The good news? It’s available now.
Manufacture Wood Pellets
EcoDataCenter in Sweden is building a huge facility that pumps its rejected heat into a wood pellet factory. The product can later be burned by customers to heat their buildings. You take the heat that you don’t need now from the data center, and you convert it into wood pellets that can be used later where people do need heat.
Some of the heat will also go to district heating for the city the data center is located in. In district heating systems, heat is sent throughout a municipality to buildings that use it for air and water. The greater efficiency makes this a key method to decrease carbon emissions and waste. In northern climates, the recycling of waste heat allows coal burning and other polluting processes to be taken offline.
The new wooden EcoDataCenter facility will cost over a hundred million dollars and add 15 megawatts (MW) to the 80 MW on the campus. The innovative approach to cooling—using excess heat to produce wood pellets—will enable clients to host their data in a modern facility while cutting greenhouse emissions and contributing to the local economy.
This green cooling solution represents a partnership between a leading Nordic data center operator and the local power company. This and other creative uses of rejected heat take advantage of liquid immersion cooling to capture 100% of data center heat. This ability makes it efficient to recycle heat throughout the economy.
An American business is using a large underground data center’s rejected heat to maintain a sea bass farm. This is no small operation; it has the potential to produce half a million pounds per year—around one-twentieth of the nation’s consumption of sea bass.
The business also aims to expand into related activities to build a comprehensive local economy around its data center. They want to develop a sheep farm, as well as a farmer’s market and other nature-centered things.
Sea bass like warm water. Growing them in cold climates requires a lot of heat. Using rejected heat from data centers is a win-win solution, eliminating the heat that would bog down IT infrastructure while funding the seafood operation.
There are several other fish farming projects around the globe reusing waste data center heat. For instance, a colocation business in Norway is reusing data center heat for the largest land-based trout farm in the world. This data center already generates all of its power from renewable hydroelectric energy. In collaboration with a seafood business, they will produce 9,000 tons of trout each year, enough for 22 million meals!
This sustainable effort will not only keep the heat in the economy but will also cut carbon emissions and other toxic waste from the atmosphere. Instead of pumping hot air into the environment, the data center will pump its heat to the fish farm, less than a kilometer away.
The transferred heat will ensure that the fish are consistently in warm enough water. On top of this, the water from the fish farm eventually recirculates back to the data center! After dissipating its heat in the fish farm, the water is now cool enough to protect the data center servers again, restarting the journey.
Going back to the benefits of liquid cooling, this technique makes it feasible to reuse heat for whatever purpose you can imagine. In the case of a Dutch cloud host, they came up with a truly green idea for the recycled heat: growing tomatoes!
Each data center works out of a container next to a greenhouse. These containers function somewhat like GRC’s ICEtank modular liquid immersion system. You get your computing power installed with liquid cooling that you can use anywhere.
The recycled heat from the Dutch containers makes its way into water at 65 degrees Celsius (149 degrees Fahrenheit). This warm water is then sent to the greenhouses. Incidentally, the IT hardware in the containers is recycled from hyperscale data centers, such as Facebook, making the project even more sustainable.
Each container produces enough data center heat for two hectares of tomatoes during the Dutch summer, or a quarter of this amount during the winter. The recycled heat is considerably more affordable than the natural gas alternative that these greenhouses would otherwise use—making the green project financially sound. It also cuts gas combustion emissions out of the equation, keeping the Earth cleaner.
These creative methods of reusing data center heat were not practical when data centers relied exclusively on air cooling. Now that liquid cooling is on the scene in a big way, more data centers are finding interesting uses for their rejected heat. Rather than being a source of trouble as data center heat used to be, it’s become an economically and environmentally beneficial resource.
Perhaps the best-known use for recycled heat is to heat buildings. You can reuse data center heat for the building’s water and air. This is made more practical with liquid immersion cooling from GRC, since the servers dump their heat directly into a liquid that can be efficiently recirculated through the building’s systems.
While the temperature of the heated coolant on its own typically isn’t hot enough to heat water much in colder environments, with maximum readings in the 40-42 degrees Celsius range, it’s suitable for radiant heating. If hotter temperatures are needed, high-efficiency heat pumps can be used for a fraction of the energy that heating it through traditional water heaters would take.
The options for heat reuse are extremely location-dependent. If your data center is in a cold northern climate, then it’s much easier to find a use for rejected heat.
Rejected heat can be used not only for the data center itself but also for district heating systems that can warm tens of thousands of buildings. This saves money for the people receiving the heat, and some of that money goes back to the data center stakeholders. It also prevents the data center heat from escaping into the air and reduces the need to generate heat for the other buildings through polluting processes.
Investments in systems to send data center heat throughout municipalities are expected to add up to over a billion dollars and create hundreds of jobs. Now some governments even mandate that data centers recycle their heat. However, not all technologies enable this recycling equally.
Liquid immersion technology works far better for this purpose than traditional air cooling, as it keeps the heat stored within a reusable liquid. Its advantage can be measured in terms of superior energy reuse effectiveness (ERE). This complements liquid immersion cooling’s improvements to other metrics, like water usage effectiveness (WUE), carbon usage effectiveness (CUE), and power usage effectiveness (PUE).
As you can see, there are tons of advantages to recycling waste heat. And hyperscalers like Google, Amazon, and Facebook aren’t oblivious to these advantages. They are also reusing data center heat for buildings. Large data centers across the globe are going green.
For example, Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, has a district heating system that buys waste heat from data centers and uses it to heat water throughout the city. This arrangement pays heat producers $200,000 per megawatt each year. Heat isn’t just some costly waste, it’s a valuable commodity!
All You Can Heat
The above use cases—wood pellet manufacturing, fish farming, tomato greenhouses, and building heat—are just a few examples of the creative ways that data centers are reusing their heat. Depending on your location and the needs of your community, the possibilities are endless.
For instance, desalination of water has typically struggled with lack of heat. As such, this is an exciting destination for data center heat. You send the heat through a liquid cooling system into the desalination plant. This makes clean drinking water.
In an ironic application, if the rejected heat is hot enough it can be used to power cooling systems! You can even take this one step farther in what’s called “trigeneration”. This produces electricity, cooling, and heating simultaneously! You’re covering a lot of your resource needs out of a waste byproduct.
Several other ideas for reutilizing waste data center heat include insect farming, biomass drying, and wastewater treatment for irrigation. Each of these uses generates financial returns while cleaning the environment—all as desirable side effects of removing unwanted heat from IT equipment.
Again, you can think of your own uses, too! It’s a fun exercise in creativity but also one that can have positive ramifications for your bottom line and the planet. The pressure is on for data centers to go green and implement sustainability plans. Liquid immersion cooling makes this not only possible but dually rewarding.
Reuse Data Center Heat With GRC
When you want to find profitable ways to put your data center heat to use, get in touch with GRC, the liquid immersion cooling authority. We have years of experience as the innovators of this green technology. It boasts a lower total cost than the competition and makes heat reuse efficient.
Data centers around the world are piping their rejected heat into the manufacturing of wood pellets, the large-scale production of fish and tomatoes, and heating the air and water in their own buildings and those of their communities.
Heat is a basic resource with countless uses, just like electricity or water. Let’s discuss how to best transform your data center’s rejected heat into greener cash flow. There’s an indisputable return on investment to be made from the smart use of resources, all while making the Earth a better place. What’s your green data center idea? Tell us today!