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Datacenters heat up greenhouses

Published: 28 June 2017

Residual heat from data centers can be reused to heat up greenhouses. The Green Power research project recently presented the pros and cons of using low temperature heat from data centers for greenhouse cultivation.

Vattenfall and the municipality of Boden belong to those who - in collaboration with a research team from Luleå University of Technology, who are experts in data modeling - investigated whether residual heat from the data center Hydro66 in Boden Municipality is sufficient to heat up a greenhouse for the cultivation of mushrooms.

– For us as an environmental municipality it is valuable to be able to use the residual heat from the municipality's data centers, says Robert Näslund, Head of Technical Management, Boden Municipality. We want to take over the cultivation of plants that we today buy from Helsingborg. Boden also has many immigrants who need to get a job and many of them already have experience from working with cultivation.

Green energy alternatives

The municipality of Boden has decided to build a plant in which a number of "greenhouse arms" will be integrated with a building, which will include training of personnel for work in greenhouses and plantations of plants to the municipality's park management. The plant will be powered by a mixture of residual heat from data centers and green energy alternatives produced in the municipality.

Data centers today do not prevent other stakeholders from using the residual heat that is released - as long as operations are not affected. The residual heat from data centers is called low-temperature heat, which means that it keeps a temperature of around 30 degrees Celsius. The purpose of the Green Power project was to develop a methodology in which measurements and computer models are used to investigate whether low temperature heating is sufficient for greenhouse cultivation and also what kind of plants are suitable for growing in greenhouses heated by low temperature heat.

Based on data on the heat released from the data center, the temperature of the in- and out-air, moisture etc. required for growing in greenhouses, the researchers have developed computer models to simulate whether it is possible to use the residual heat for greenhouse cultivation and how the greenhouse should be designed and powered by data center warming.

Developed a tool

In addition, a tool for calculating the appropriate dimension on the greenhouse has been developed. How big greenhouse can we heat up, how to handle the variations in the supply of residual heat and how does it affect the operation of the greenhouse, how to design the heat exchange from the data center to the greenhouse etc., are questions that the researchers been investigating while using simulation.

At the final presentation of the results of the Green Power project, representatives of Vattenfall suggested that there is continued interest in the utilization of residual heat from data centers and to translate the research into practice. The Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences also stated that it is fully possible to grow fungus in small greenhouses heated by residual heat from data centers. The results also indicate that in order to grow in greenhouses heated with residual heat from data centers, there is probably a need to supplement low temperature heat from data centers with other heat sources during the colder parts of the year and that there is a great economic potential in developing new solutions to reuse low-energy from different buildings.

– Now we want to continue building greenhouses and study how different computer models can work together to optimize the whole, says Marcus Sandberg, researcher in the field of construction production and project manager for Green Power. The project has led to the spread of interest for data center among researchers at the university and to valuable contacts with prospective partners.

In Green Power project Luleå University of Technology’s researchers Mikael Risberg, Anna-Lena Ljung and Damiano Varagnolo, project manager Marcus Sandberg and Michael Nilsson participated, as well as  researchers from Sweden's Agricultural University in Umeå and representatives from Vattenfall, Ericsson, KnCMiner, Bodens Energi, Bodens kommun, Hydro66, Boden Business Agency, RISE SICS North Swedish ICT, Enaco and the Housekeeping Society has participated. The project is partly financed by the Swedish Energy Agency, Bodens kommun and Vattenfall.