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Heating tomatoes and cucumbers using data

09 August 2021

Heating tomatoes and cucumbers using data

Data centres use huge amounts of energy and emit huge amounts of heat. Generally speaking, too little is being done to reuse that residual heat. With their CR2SE project, Dutch company Evergreen Pine and Flemish non-profit Boterakker are seeking to reuse this residual heat to heat greenhouses in the horticulture sector. Agropolis has been selected as an incubator to house this pilot project.

Thermal heat underutilised
Thermal heat underutilised
The wave of digitisation brings with it a wave of new data centres. These centres contain large servers that store data, and that use huge amounts of energy. The processors in these servers emit all that energy as heat, and very little is being done at present to recover that heat. The reason for this is that the temperature of air-cooled data centres is often too low for the heat to be recycled. On top of that, the physical distance to places where the heat could be put to good use is often too large.

Evergreen Pine and Boterakker are looking to develop an innovative solution to reuse this residual heat in the agriculture sector. After all, farmers and growers need heat all year round. By making the most of this alternative source of heat, users can save up to 30% on their gas consumption for heat production.

Heat storage from water-cooled servers for a constant temperature
Jeroen Burks, CEO at Evergreen Pine, tells us more: “As part of this project, we’re looking to link a compact, liquid-cooled Blockheating data centre with a focus on high thermal heat recycling to a thermal buffer based on phase-changing materials. By using water-cooled servers in a compactly designed data centre, the residual heat from the servers can be exported in the form of water at a temperature of 55-60 degrees.”

“This water can then be used straightaway by horticultural businesses — without the need for a heat pump — to heat greenhouses. When we look at other markets, heat storage is essential. To make sure this heat is used in the most optimal way possible, we’re researching whether we can do so via a melt/freeze cycle. This energy system can be used in both the production and processing in food. By rolling it out further in future, we can contribute to making the food chain more sustainable.”

Based in Dutch Limburg, Evergreen Pine’s activities relate to recycling in the broadest sense of the term. Initially, the company focused mainly on recycling data centre hardware. In 2018, it expanded with Blockheating, which had commended industrial research into the feasibility of recycling the residual heat produced by data centres as a source of heat in horticultural businesses.

Boterakker, a non-profit organisation based in Belgian Limburg, possesses the knowledge of current heat requirements in the agricultural sector that’s needed for this project. The non-profit is responsible for the technical developments at the Agropolis site in Kinrooi. This campus hosts innovative agriculture concepts and offers space for digital innovation and physical agriculture and horticulture concepts. The infrastructure for the project will also be developed and put into use at this site.

The more data centres, the greater the potential
Jeroen Burks continues: “By reusing our residual heat, we are reducing the emissions of our data centres. In turn, the users using our residual heat can save up to 30% on their gas consumption for heat production. In doing so, around 154 tonnes of CO2 can be saved by just a single unit on an annual basis, which amounts to 2,395 tonnes of CO2 over a lifespan of 16 years (at a utilisation rate of 70%).”

A large-scale expansion could increase these gains exponentially in the future. “In the Netherlands, there are around 700 horticultural businesses to whom this technology might be an interesting prospect. In Belgium, there are around 1,000. At the moment, there is around 1,300 MW of data centre capacity in the Netherlands, and that’s growing at an annual rate of 15-20%. Assuming growth of 200 MW per year, this offers the potential for 2,000 new units every year in the Netherlands. It’s our ambition to have 24 units by 2026, resulting in annual savings of 3.7 kilotonnes of CO2.”

CO2 savings
Annual reduction of 154 tonnes of CO2 for a single unit


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