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Can data centres be transformed into flexible energy ecosystems?

Thu 16 Jul 2020 | Robbert Hoeffnagel

Robbert Hoeffnagel discusses the innovative European programme carrying out invaluable research into circular models for data centres

Currently, only 10 percent of the so-called ‘critical raw materials’ used in data centres are recovered. If we want to further reduce the impact of data centres on the environment and our living environment, the percentage of devices and materials that are re-used or recycled will have to be drastically increased.

That is why a group of companies, universities and other parties – including Green IT Amsterdam – are starting a research programme under the name CEDaCI into circular models for data centres.

Organisations from the four main data centre countries in Europe – the Netherlands, Germany, France and the United Kingdom – are participating in the project. “North-West Europe – and in particular the UK, Germany, France and the Netherlands – is the EU’s data centre hotspot,” says Julie Chenadec, project manager at Green IT Amsterdam.

“Servers and other hardware in data centres often have a replacement period of one to five years. Although accurate data is not published, the data centre industry makes a significant contribution to the global total of 11.8 million tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).

“This makes WEEE one of the fastest growing waste streams in the European Union. WEEE contains critical raw materials of high economic importance and vulnerable to supply disruption. In addition, production is energy-intensive and thus contributes to the environmental impact of the sector.”

Environmental Impact

This waste contains so-called critical raw materials (CRMs). These are raw materials that are of great technological and economic importance and whose supply is vulnerable to interruption.

“With the CEDaCI project, we facilitate the creation of a circular economy for data centres in North-West Europe. This circular economy reduces the impact of data centres on the environment. This will be possible if we are able to recover more raw materials, reduce the use of new raw materials and develop a safe and economically healthy chain for critical raw materials,” explains Chenadec.

Currently, only 10 percent of critical raw materials are recycled and recovered. CEDaCI wants to increase this to 40 percent for the baseline (107 tonnes) at the end of the project in 2021. And further to 400 percent or 242 tons of WEEE after 10 years.

“At the moment, the greatest environmental impact of data centres comes from the substantial use of energy,” says Chenadec.

FACT LIST

  • CEDaCI is a European research project aimed at developing a circular economy for data centres.
  • The project started in January 2019 and runs until 2021.
  • These are the participants in the project:
    •  London South Bank University (UK)
    • Dialasheep (FR)
    • Operational Intelligence (UK)
    • Wuppertal Institut für Klima
    • Umwelt, Energie gGmbH (DUI)
    • Green IT Amsterdam (NL)
    • SIMS Recycling Solutions (NL)
    • Aliter Networks (NL)
    • TEAM2 (FR)
    • WeLOOP (FR)
    • Terra Nova Development (FR)

“This is being addressed through improved operational efficiency and the use of renewable electricity generation technologies. However, given the enormous growth, the impact of data centres on the availability of resources such as the critical raw materials mentioned should not be overlooked.”

Over the lifetime of a data centre an estimated 15 percent of the environmental impact comes from the building and its installations, while 85 percent comes from IT equipment. Both the speed and volume of growth of digital waste is unprecedented, but this is not accompanied by the development of recycling infrastructure.  Moreover, it is clear that the reuse of components, as well as the recycling and reuse of materials, is low.

Chenadec says: “Currently, recycling of WEEE in North-West Europe is limited to 26.9 percent in the United Kingdom, 26.3 percent in France, 36.9 percent in Germany and 38.1 percent in the Netherlands. A large part of the remaining equipment is exported and reprocessed or sent to landfills. These exports waste millions of tonnes of valuable resources from this sector every year or are no longer accessible.”

“While some of these substances are dangerous and have harmful effects on the environment and the living environment. Yet these materials are often simply considered as “waste”. It is important that these critical raw materials remain available or become available for reuse, precisely because access to them is threatened and substitution by other materials is currently not feasible.”


This article was published in Data Centre Management, Techerati’s sister print publication dedicated to mission-critical infrastructure.  Sign up to receive the Autumn Edition.

Experts featured:

Robbert Hoeffnagel

Communications Manager
Green IT Amsterdam

Tags:

energy power sustainability
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