Is it Time for a Bio-Mass Powered Data Center?

Filed under: Green Computing | |

biomassThis post explores the concept of an end-to-end ‘green’ power, water, and community eco-system based around mega-watt scale power and cooling requirements in a real world environment of limited financial resources and stringent system availability requirements. It suggests that huge power hungry data centers should consider incorporating on-site biomass electricity generation as an integral part of their operations systems.

by Jack Pouchet, director of energy initiatives for Emerson Network Power has more than 20 years related experience in data center operations and efficiency. He is an active member of The Green Grid, a non-profit, open industry consortium of end-users, policy-makers, technology providers, facility architects, and utility companies collaborating to improve the resource efficiency of data centers and business computing ecosystems. Read his blog. Connect with Jack on Linkedin.

“Green” data centers are the current media rage [See: "So You’re Building a “Green” Data Center"]. However typically all we find behind the marketing hype, and talk of reducing climate change, is some sort of engineering study indicating a ridiculously low PUE and, on rare occasions, an honest to goodness USGBC LEED rating for the building. Of these, you can take that USGBC LEED rating to the bank as a globally recognized standard for using sound environmental practices in building construction and operation. The rest, well I’ll leave that to your imagination. [See "Top 10 Things Data Centers Forget About PUE"]

Fortunately more data center owners, architectural and engineering firms, and construction companies are embracing USGBC LEED as the starting point for all future projects. So today we are going to suggest pushing that envelope a little bit further to explore ‘green’ power sites along with CUE, WUE, MRR, and ERE (energy reuse) considerations. We want to explore the concept of an end-to-end ‘green’ power, water, and community eco-system based around mega-watt scale power and cooling requirements in a real world environment of limited financial resources and stringent system availability requirements.

Perhaps one of the easiest places to start in the ‘greening’ process for our power hungry data centers is to change the composition of our source energy (EIA report pdf). Many have already started down this path building new centers in areas with high concentrations of utility provided hydro and/or nuclear power. In these areas one can source energy with CO2 content in the > 0.05 kG/kW (hydro) or >0.01 kG/kW (nuclear). Others, like Emerson, have added solar power systems to their data centers creating an on-site green energy source that operates in parallel with the local utility.

Wind power also scales nicely to data center energy demands and some have pursued this approach in conjunction with a primary grid-connected utility. However I am frequently reminded by an engineering friend “Jeff” that wind doesn’t always blow and solar PV is barely breaking 10-12% conversion efficiency, often has a ten-year plus payback even with huge government incentives, and last time he looked didn’t match well with nighttime loads.

Finally, if you aren’t able to source clean energy directly nor able to install your own renewable energy system, one can always consider some form of green energy purchase. The EPA’s Green Power Partner program recognizes providers and purchasers of green power and Intel consistently ranks at the top purchasing enough power to run a host of data centers.

So how do we push the envelope? By building your next data center in a recently vacated manufacturing plant that has on site green power (typically bio-mass) generation in the range of 20 to 40 MW, a concurrently grid-connected supply of relatively clean power as back-up, copious amounts of water, and a nearby recipient (another manufacturing site) that wants all of your cooling water for process heat. This combination would yield a multiple-win scenario starting with numerous local/regional business incentives/credits to breathe life back into the local economy, the USGBC looks favorably on building re-use, the true on-site green power keeps Greenpeace and company away, and a nearby use for waste heat makes for an impressive ERE (reuse) metric and compelling PR story.

With on-site green power generation and a concurrent grid connection one can easily envision a data center power architecture with high-efficiency UPSs in the A buss and nothing more than some isolation transformers in the B buss. This would likely achieve blended efficiencies in the 98 – 98.5% range with about half the CAPEX of a traditional 2(N+1) architecture and likely the same or slightly higher calculated reliability.

Depending upon local climate zone there are numerous scenarios to maximize cooling efficiency but the availability of ground-source cool water and a nearby demand for cooling water waste heat may enable a chiller-less and evaporator-less cooling system. For that matter having 20 to 40MW of clean, CO2 free power almost begs for a DX/water hybrid cooling system. Low design PUEs may be nice but green power and a community use for waste heat trumps PUE every time.

Just a wild dream you say? Maybe, but recently I met with Stan Parton of the Parton Group at a 7×24 Exchange chapter event in Atlanta and Stan piqued my interest in mega-watt class green/renewable energy data centers. (Disclaimer: I have no business relationship with either Stan Parton or the Parton Group.) Turns out Stan is working with several sites, Ohio and Georgia if memory serves me right, that feature bio-mass power plants, green certified power, plenty of water, access to fiber, and a host of other factors that started me thinking these may well be the data centers of the future.

What really nailed this concept for me was when an old friend from high school mentioned a paper mill closing in Hoquiam Washington. We kicked around the idea that perhaps the very high-tech electronics industry that is rapidly displacing the need for paper could be the solution to reinvigorating these communities, buildings, and local economies. An interesting concept – shut down a plant and build a data center.

So maybe it is time to really push the ‘green’ envelope and start building data centers in reclaimed manufacturing facilities replete with bio-mass power (green), abundant natural resources, and community waste-heat/water requirements. Play your cards right and the site may come with huge local tax incentives too, often the number one driver in data center site selection.

Would you consider a bio-mass powered data center? Send me an email with your thoughts.

Post reprinted with permission from EfficientDataCenters.com


Featured Resource:
Building Blocks for Profitable Green IT Strategy 3 Easy Building Blocks for a Profitable Green IT Strategy -- Learn how to create a lasting and effective strategy for sustainability and its attendant ROI, starting with small achievable steps. This very practical white paper compares "greening" your IT department to "greening" your home: the key to a lasting return is starting with small, affordable, easy-to-accomplish steps. Learn how to create a comprehensive baseline of your IT department's carbon footprint, effective techniques for drafting a list of sustainability objectives, and some of the easiest real-world practices to implement for a high return-on-investment ratio. Download your free copy of 3 Easy Building Blocks for a Profitable Green IT Strategy Now!!

© 2011, Jack Pouchet. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

Share on TwitterShare on TumblrSubmit to StumbleUponSave on DeliciousDigg ThisSubmit to redditShare via email

Shortlink:

Protected by Copyscape Duplicate Content Finder
Posted by Filed under Green Computing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
Line Break

Author: Jack Pouchet (2 Articles)

Jack Pouchet, director of energy initiatives for Emerson Network Power, a business of Emerson (NYSE: EMR) and the global leader in enabling Business-Critical ContinuityTM. He brings more than 20 years related experience in data center operations and efficiency. Mr. Pouchet is an active member of the The Green Grid, a non-profit, open industry consortium of end-users, policy-makers, technology providers, facility architects, and utility companies collaborating to improve the resource efficiency of data centers and business computing ecosystems. Connect with Jack on Linkedin.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/michelinebirkhead Micheline Birkhead

    Chris – excellent article. You hit the nail on the head with what “green” really encompasses for DCs… “We want to explore the concept of an end-to-end ‘green’ power, water, and community eco-system based around mega-watt scale power and cooling requirements in a real world environment of limited financial resources and stringent system availability requirements.” Thanks! ~Micheline Birkhead

    • Chris

      Re-directing your thanks to Jack Pouchet — who authored this post, and I agree. I really like the notion of re-purposing existing brownfield sites; of on site decentralized co-generation of power and heat, which also helps secure power availability for these critical information infrastructure sites.

  • Dallasterry

    Facinating Article Chris, it is just this sort of whole systems thinking that caused me to
    pursue a career in the sustainable energy field to begin with. In terms of biomass as a fuel source for data centers, I’m wondering what you think the best general feed stock would be? I would imagine most data centers tend to be located in urbanized areas and proximity to feed stock when considering biomass is a critical factor in biomass project successes. The costs to transport waste materials from other operations as feedstock will have to be weighed against the energy production value and other downstream benefits (process water for cooling) for various stakeholders involved. Do you think on site Anaerobic Digestion could serve this role? Cheers, Dallas Terry

  • http://eco.allpurposeguru.com/2011/06/flushing-energy-down-the-toilet/ David Guion

    This is a very imaginative approach to solving two problems at once–by using the potential negatives of the one to supply the needs of the other. Lately I have been reading and writing about something that could provide a partial answer to Dallasterry’s question: microbial fuel cells. Apparently no one has yet built one to a scale that can be used in a municipal wastewater treatment center or other large-scale applications, but I wonder if something suitable for extracting electricity from one data center’s sewage might be practical sooner.