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French datacentre operator to prototype using site's waste heat to generate renewable energy

Data4 is partnering with the University of Paris-Saclay to experiment with reusing waste datacentre heat to grow algae for use in green energy generation

French datacentre operator Data4 is partnering with the University of Paris-Saclay to prototype a means of reusing waste server farm heat to create sustainable sources of biomass-based energy.

The question of what to do with the waste heat their facilities produce is an enduring problem for datacentre operators, but one they have come under growing pressure in recent years to resolve, as the sector’s environmental impacts have come under growing scrutiny.

In response, some operators have committed to putting mechanisms in place that mean their waste heat can be put to use to heat homes or local businesses, such as leisure centres, greenhouses and fish farms.

However, Data4 and its research partner are seeking out an alternative, circular economy-focused use case that would see its waste heat contribute to the creation of a renewable energy source.

As such, the two organisations have signed a partnership agreement that see the pair experiment with reusing the carbon dioxide captured from the waste datacentre heat to grow algae, before it is converted into biomass.

Patrick Duvaut, vice-president of the University of Paris- Saclay, said a feasibility study had confirmed the efficiency of the carbon capture in this setup can be 20 times greater than that of a tree, which has given the organisations confidence to pursue their prototype.

The biomass will, in turn, be used to develop new circular energy sources and to manufacture bioproducts for other industries, such as cosmetics and agriculture, the pair confirmed in a statement.

“This new research and development project is a response to the strategic challenge of reusing the heat produced by datacentres… to prevent this year from being lost,” the statement read. “Several reuse options are currently being studied, such as the most widespread option of heating nearby homes. However, this solution only exploits 20% of the year produced.”  

Data4 said it has made a concerted effort in recent years to reduce its greenhouse gases, and is committed to ensuring the exponential growth in datacentre demand is met in an environmentally sustainable way, which is what prompted it to start looking for alternative use cases for its waste heat.   

Linda Lescuyer, innovation manager at Data4, said that if the initial prototype is successful, the company will look to industrialise the heat reuse process for the benefit of other organisations in the region.

“This augmented biomass project meets two of the major challenges of our time: food security and the energy transition. This requires close collaboration between all of the players in the Essonne region [where Data4 operates] to develop a genuine industrial ecology project, aimed at pooling resource and reducing consumption in the region,” said Lescuyer.

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