Data center sustainability: Heralding the age of green data centers

Data center sustainability matters. They're critical for a green future. Here's some (perhaps less obvious) ways they can reduce their carbon footprint.

Data centers are critical in providing the computing and storage infrastructure needed to not only power the internet but also connect communities all over the world.

To become greener and more efficient, data centers are actively looking for ways to reduce their energy usage, offset their carbon footprints, reduce water utilization, and decrease the materials used within them.

However, there are other (and perhaps less obvious) ways in which data centers can improve their sustainability credentials.

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What is the environmental impact of the data center industry?

According to the Federal Statistical Office of Germany, there are now around 7.2 million data centers in the world. These data centers use a lot of energy, not just to power the many rows of servers within them but also in their cooling systems. In fact, data centers use more electricity than some countries.

Driven by cloud computing, television streaming, web searches, artificial intelligence (AI), and everything in between, the drive for more and bigger data centers has not shown signs of abating.

The Synergy Research Group found that the total number of data centers operated by hyperscale providers globally increased by nearly 60 between the end of 2020 and Q2 of 2021.

In reality, there are only a handful of companies behind these huge facilities that have the appetite to adopt greener, more sustainable systems and practices.

The Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact contains several signatories, specifically data center operators (Pact Associations) and companies that own or operate data centers within the European Union. This self-regulated initiative ensures that data centers are taking a number of actions to ensure that data center operators are part of the sustainable future of Europe.

How can data centers operate more sustainably?

It is almost inevitable that more data centers will be required to provide the critical services needed to connect people around the world. With the right design, building, and operating approaches, data centers can be the sustainable infrastructure required for our green future.

Green Energy

Improving efficiency, reducing energy consumption, and establishing a long-term and plentiful supply of clean energy is a key part in reducing a data center’s carbon footprint.

However, despite best efforts to move away from fossil fuels, data center operators are still likely to rely on diesel generators. These generators are used as a backup form of energy in the case of a power outage.

An alternative to diesel generators for backup power is a battery energy storage solution (BESS).

While seemingly unrelated, the problem of used electric vehicle batteries needs to be addressed. These batteries are retired, despite a remaining capacity of around 80%. This depreciation is significant when it is reflected as a loss of mileage. However, the overall capacity is more than enough for BESS systems, where these batteries take on a second life as a greener alternative to diesel generators.

Data centers are increasingly switching to renewables; Google has even committed to operating on 24/7 carbon-free energy by 2030. The switch to sustainable power is a challenge. We all know the wind doesn’t always blow, and the sun doesn’t always shine. However, BESS systems could provide a solution.

BESS systems have the capability and capacity to store renewable energy as it is generated. Energy can then be discharged to the data center as required; if excess energy is created, it can even be sold back to the grid.

Data center hardware and the circular economy

The use of lithium-ion batteries in data center hardware has grown, notably within uninterruptible power supplies (UPS). This critical piece of hardware ensures continued service for short periods during utility-supplied power problems.

Lithium-ion batteries are now the batteries of choice within UPSs, given their longer life span, better performance, and smaller footprints, offering short-term backup for loss of energy. However, the metals used within them are often mined using artisanal practices, and the materials themselves are becoming scarcer. 

The raw virgin materials found within these batteries can be offered a second life through an innovative recycling process. Black mass is first extracted through a physical process before a chemical refinement process extracts scarce elements, such as graphite, cobalt hydroxide, and lithium carbonate.

The power management company Eaton, which supplies global data centers with hardware, has a relationship with TES to recycle the lithium batteries found in their UPS hardware. This relationship helps close the loop on the take–make–dispose model by making lithium available for use again in the manufacturing supply chain.

Data centers can also embed circular thinking into server hardware through a strategic IT asset disposition partnership. Hardware that is to be decommissioned can still be compliantly data sanitized to NIST 800-88 standards and given a new life by remarketing assets downstream. If they cannot be reused, they can be recycled to R2 standards, thus reducing e-waste.

What are we doing at TES?

TES’s innovative sustainable battery solutions were recently recognized at the Data Centre World Awards and presented with the Environmental Product of the Year, 2022.

This accolade is a testament to our commitment to making a decade of difference by securely, safely, and sustainably transforming and repurposing 1 billion kg of assets by 2030.

TES already partners with the world’s top hyperscalers to deliver sustainable lifecycle technology solutions. This is supported by the largest infrastructure of its kind in the world. This infrastructure has delivered over $100 million of remarketing value within data center services alone.

Download our latest Sustainability Report that covers more of our initiatives, such as our goals to reduce energy consumption, mitigate GHG emissions, reach our environmental targets, promote our zero-waste-to-landfill commitment, and extend the life of products through the services we provide.

 

TES Sustainability Report v2

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