European international research project Circular Economy in the Data Centre Industry (CEDaCI) was granted an additional 1.245m Euros to extend its work into three more European countries in March. The project added Ireland, Belgium and Luxembourg to its geographical scope, in addition to the original countries France, Germany, the UK and the Netherlands.
CEDaCI has a particular focus on the recovery of Critical Raw Materials, 30 elements identified by the EU as in short or politically unstable supply. With some predicted to run out in decades, the environmental risk associated with them is high. So too is the human risk, as some are mined in conflict zones, and this is something the project is keen to explore and quantify. However, the project also looks at water usage, toxicity waste and carbon emissions as part of the lifecycle analysis.
“Although we would like to focus on the whole industry, we are focusing on servers because they have an incredibly high impact,” explains CEDaCI academic lead Deborah Andrews, Associate Professor at London South Bank University. “The sector has gone from nothing to 7.7 million data centres at breakneck speed and the focus has been on delivering data processing rather than the materials.”
One of the most revolutionary aspects of the CEDaCI project is that it breaks down the silos that all too often exist in the data centre sector. Traditional education and career development has been mono-disciplined. This, says Deborah Andrews, is contrary to the development of the circular economy, which requires a whole life approach. Bringing people from different disciplines together to exchange knowledge has been one of the highlights so far.
The extension will build on this with two new partners, Free ICT Europe and Techbuyer, and new Associate Partner Host In Ireland. It will double the number of SMEs and technical assistance to 30 more SMEs and 10 Public Authorities and solidify the growing network of interested organisations.
“We believe we can do more in addressing key issues like sustainability when we all come together and work towards a common goal,” explains Garry Connolly President and Founder of Host In Ireland. “The days of working in isolation need to be seen as a historical means of doing business. Our best way to address the climate crisis is to ensure that science, data and human behaviour are all aligned and that this type of collaboration is the new given.”
Full lifecycle approaches are vital in Circular Economy and the CEDaCI pilot projects reflect this. Pilot A is a series of eco-design guidelines for circular manufacture that reduce the amount of materials needed in servers, increase the ability to interchange component parts and facilitate recycling. This builds on work carried out in the past with one key difference. Whereas previous studies have been based on assumption, CEDaCI researchers have spent months reverse engineering the machines. Components have been completely disassembled and logged before being sent for lab analysis to provide a chemical breakdown.
Parallel work is being carried out on the midlife equipment with a project that covers refurbishment and reuse. Working with Aliter and SIMS, SDIA and Green IT Amsterdam and Techbuyer, the output of Pilot B is a series of business models that demonstrate the value of refurbishment and reuse. Recent research Techbuyer published in the IEEE proves that refurbished IT equipment performs identically to new and can outperform if configured correctly. This puts the sector in a strong position to extend product lifecycles and transnational cases are being developed to this end.
CEDaCI is also running Pilot C, which covers end of whole life for servers, demonstrating advances in recycling and reclamation of Critical Raw Materials and precious metals in conjunction with TND. TND is focusing the on recovery of other materials like tantalum and tin using Pyrolysis, a thermal processes that excludes oxygen and therefore burning. Elements like tantalum, one of the 30 materials identified by the EU as in low or politically unstable supply, can be destroyed using traditional recycling methods.
In addition to academic papers used to inform policy making, CEDaCI is generating a Circular Data Centre Compass (CDCC). This online digital tool provided free of charge on the website enables managers to make factually based decisions on buying new or refurbished equipment, and sending to recyclers using traditional or new technologies.
A unique factor is the focus on CRM so this tool will show the environmental impact, social impact and economic impact of various scenarios. The data highlights the benefits of product life extension for the triple bottom line and also includes a design evaluator for any interested party wanting to test how circular their new product is. This includes not just physical design features but also software and firmware.
Training sessions for Small and Medium Enterprises across Europe provide guidance on the concept of circular economy as well as practical application. It allows decision makers to balance energy efficiency with material resource use and recovery.
CEDaCI partners have been proactive in promoting the project and the network in France, Germany, the UK and the Netherlands is extensive. Project partners have attended a large number of global data centre industry, lifecycle analysis and academic events to raise awareness.
Aside from the new countries opened up with the extension, the project also aims to improve on the outputs of the first stage.
“We are at the point where will have the alpha version of the CDCC and we’ll be able to find more data and add this to the tool, which is a time consuming process,” says Deborah Andrews, who is keen to source more makes and models of end-of-life servers in order to do this.
“ We can also add an SDG (UN Sustainable Development Goals) element to the tool to show the environmental impact, social impact and economic impact of various scenarios.”
As tool users, IT Asset Managers will be able to test how their decisions actions affect SDGs simply, effectively and quickly, using dropdown menus rather than using text books.
Another long term aim is to extend the work on circular design into the first prototype circular server. The project extension will enable the group to refine this idea, hopefully leading to work with an organisation like the Open Compute Project to transform these into market ready products.