Kao Data first UK campus to switch from diesel to HVO fuel
Kao Data, which operates one of the UK’s densest high performance computing (HPC) campuses in Harlow between London and Cambridge, has become the first data centre in the UK to switch out its diesel-fueled backup generators to run on renewable, low-carbon hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO).
By switching its fuel source, Kao Data will reportedly be able to cut CO2 emissions from its backup generators by as much as 90%, significantly reducing its nitrogen oxide, particulate matter, and carbon monoxide emissions.
“HVO fuel is dramatically better for the environment compared to traditional, mineral diesels. It is 100% renewable, biodegradable, sustainable and non-toxic,” said Simon Lawford, Technical Sales Manager at Crown Oil, which partnered with Kao Data on the transition.
HVO is what’s called a second-generation advanced renewable alternative to diesel. The fuel is produced through a synthesis of vegetable oils, and allegedly overcomes a number of the performance inadequacies of earlier biofuels, burning more efficiently than other biodiesels and “delivering the same level of resilience as traditional fossil fuels.” The transition also requires no modification of the generators themselves, as HVO can be used as a one-to-one replacement for traditional diesel fuel, and is actually expected to increase the lifespan of Kao Data’s generators, as HVO eliminates microbial growth, which generates sludge that can contaminate fuel lines and potentially lead to engine shut down.
Currently, Kao Data’s Harlow campus - which is already one of the UK’s most sustainable colocation and HPC facilities, using 100% renewable energy power mix, utilising 100% refrigerant-free indirect evaporative cooling technologies, and “hyperscale inspired” designs that allow it to deliver a PUE of less than 1.2 - is still being built out. To meet current requirements, Crown Oil is replacing an initial 45,000 litres of diesel and will later switch to an HVO provision of more than 750,000 litres when the campus is fully developed.
The company has hailed the transition to HVO-powered backup generators as a “significant step” on the company’s journey to make its data centre full carbon neutral by 2030.
“This pioneering approach to replace our generator’s diesel provision with HVO fuel, is a key step in the company’s efforts to become Net Zero, and a further demonstration of our leadership in the international data centre sustainability field,” said Gérard Thibault, Chief Technology Officer at Kao Data.
He added: “This move effectively eliminates fossil fuels from our data centre operations, and helps us reduce Scope 3 emissions in our customers’ supply chain, while delivering no degradation to the service they receive. Most importantly, it shows how our industry can take a simple and highly beneficial step forward for the good of the environment.”
Liquid cooling market poised for growth
The data centre liquid cooling market is set for strong growth over the coming decade, as a series of high-profile trials by prominent hyperscalers and growing demand for greener, more efficient cooling drives adoption throughout the industry. A new report by Research and Markets puts the size of the liquid cooling industry in 2021 at just over $3.19bn globally. By 2026, that market is expected to exceed $7.2bn, exhibiting a CAGR of 14.64%.
Liquid cooling can trace its roots all the way back to the mid-1960’s, when IBM launched its first cooling system that used water instead of air. Chilled water was used to cool interboard heat exchangers to reduce the temperature rise across multiple stacks of boards populated with cards. The technology was, like many new innovations, somewhat expensive and unreliable; putting water and expensive electronics in close proximity to one another has always been seen as a somewhat risky business.
Things have come a long way since then, however, and it seems as though liquid cooling might finally be reaching maturity at a critical juncture in the data centre industry’s history, as skyrocketing demand for digital infrastructure collides with the non-negotiable need for more sustainable designs.
Research and Markets’ report lists three key factors as the key drivers behind this growth rate, which is expected to be more than 4% faster than the expansion of the overall data centre cooling industry during the 2021-2026 period.
Strategic collaboration with leading technical giants
Earlier this year, hyperscale cloud giant Microsoft announced that it had been playing around behind the scenes with a new type of liquid cooling solution from Bitfury spinout firm LiquidStack. We actually sat down with LiquidStack’s CEO, Joe Capes recently, and you can read the full interview in this month’s issue of Data Centre Magazine.
Microsoft’s interest in liquid cooling solutions apparently stems from its need to ensure its hyperscale facilities (which the company builds denser and runs hotter every year) continue to make progress in terms of efficiency.
“Air cooling is not enough,” said Christian Belady, distinguished engineer and vice president of Microsoft’s datacenter advanced development group in Redmond, Washington. “That’s what’s driving us to immersion cooling, where we can directly boil off the surfaces of the chip.”
Because heat transfer in liquids is orders of magnitude more efficient than air, Microsoft (and likely other hyperscalers looking to reap similar rewards) is expected to be a key driver of hyperscale adoption throughout the industry.
Bolstered production of liquid cooling systems
In response to growing interest and demand, liquid cooling companies are racing to globalise and scale up their offerings. A recent report from Markets and Markets identified more than 10 firms from across the world currently either diversifying into or directly targeting the liquid cooling sector of the data centre cooling industry: Asetek (Denmark), Rittal (Germany), Vertiv (US), Green Revolution Cooling (US), Midas Green Technologies (US), Allied Control (Hong Kong), Schneider Electric (France), Chilldyne (US), CoolIT Systems (Canada), Submer (Spain), Iceotope (UK), Fujitsu (Japan), Aspen Systems (US), DCX The Liquid Cooling Company (Poland), Ebullient (US), Aquila Group (US), ExaScaler (Japan), Cooler Master Co (China), Asperitas (Netherland), and Liqit.io (Ukraine).
Need to address the limitations associated with air-based cooling
Air cooling (such as hot-aisle-cold-aisle setups) remains the most widely-utilised solution for cooling data centres. However, as rack densities rise, and the climate crisis continues to make air-based free cooling less of a viable option in more and more places, liquid cooling could be the solution.
The growth of data centres at the edge is also a potential driver of liquid cooling adoption. Because edge data centres are built on much smaller footprints (commonly enough inside a shipping container), huge walls of fans are rarely efficient enough in terms of square-footage to support edge data centre needs, particularly with the growth of high performance computing (HPC) applications at the network edge.