Equinix is Latest to Adapt Ground Water for Cooling

Equinix has become the latest company to use Mother Nature as its chiller, tapping ground water in an Aquifer Thermal Energy Storage (ATES) system in its new Amsterdam data center.

Rich Miller

October 26, 2012

5 Min Read
Equinix is Latest to Adapt Ground Water for Cooling
Equinix’s AM3 data center in Amsterdam (Photo: Equinix)


An exterior view of the Equinix AM3 data center in Amsterdam, which uses a groundwater aquifer in its cooling system. (Photo: Equinix)

Colocation provider Equinix has become the latest company to use Mother Nature as its chiller, tapping ground water in an Aquifer Thermal Energy Storage (ATES) system in its new AM3 data center in Amsterdam's Science Park.

Chilled water is a key component of many data center cooling systems, and is often supplied by chillers, large refrigeration units that require a hefty amount of electricity to operate. By using cool water from an aquifer - an underground layer of rock or earth from which groundwater can be extracted - Equinix doesn't need to run its chillers and slashes its electricity cost for much of the year.  At AM3, Water is pumped from the aquifers as soon as the temperature rises above 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees F). Extending its sutainable practices, the data center will use excess heat from servers to warm neighboring buildings.

“Green IT and energy efficiency are increasingly becoming decisive factors for organizations when choosing a data center. Environmental legislation is becoming more stringent and energy costs are rising, as is the importance that consumers and companies attach to sustainability,” commented Michiel Eielts, director, Equinix Netherlands. “Equinix is committed to building sustainable data centers throughout the world. We are particularly proud of AM3 for pushing the boundaries on new levels of innovation and sustainability.”

Oak Ridge Initiative

Equinix isn't the only data center operator looking at lakes or groundwater for cooling. One organization currently studying the possibility is Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), whose data center houses  three of the world’s most powerful supercomputers: Jaguar, Kraken and Gaea.

"We're toying with an idea of using lake water in our cooling system," said Rick Griffin, a Senior Electrical Engineer at Oak Ridge, during a recent presentation. "There is 65 degree water in the lake (on campus) even in summer. "

But there are lots of challenges to consider before taking the plunge. "There are all sorts of reliability issues," said Griffin. "Do you put generators on the pumps? The upside is we know we that if we can eliminate that evaporative system (that currently provides cool water for the heat exchangers in the data center) we can save a lot of water. We would return it at a pretty high temperature, so we would blend it (with cooler water) and then return it.

"It's just something we're looking at it," said Griffin. "It may or may not work."

Here’s a look at some of these projects using the earth as their chiller, tapping nearby rivers, underground lakes and wells:

Google: The search giant will use cool sea water in the cooling system for its new data center in Hamina, Finland, which is under construction and scheduled to go live early next year. Google has refurbished the water pumps used at the former newsprint plant, and will use large pipes to draw cool water from the nearby Baltic Sea.

BastionHost: This Canadian provider purchased a former government continuity bunker in Nova Scotia as part of its plan to build a “Dataville” campus. “We have a huge ground water cooling aquifer,” said Anton Self, the CEO of Bastionhost. “My entire plant uses ground water cooling.” The system currently supports the first phase of finished space at the bunker, but Self says Bastionhost is working with hydrogeologists and engineers to tap new wells to help the system scale to upwards of 10 million gallons per day.

SIAG: This company’s “Swiss Fort Knox” data center is located deep below the Swiss Alps, and offers ultra-secure data storage in a nuke-proof facility. The data center also takes advantage of the cooling potential presented by its location, pulling glacial water from an underground lake to use in its cooling systems.

DataDock: This former warehouse facility near Strasbourg has been retooled to house equipment from PlusServer, and taps the area’s extensive groundwater for its supply of 12° C (53 degree F) cold water. The groundwater is pumped out of the wells, then it is filtered to avoid any accumulation in the pipes, and finally it is used inside of datadock to cool down the inner cooling circuit by means of heat exchangers.

Green Mountain Data Center:  This facility is located on the shores of the island of Rennesoy, Norway inside concrete buildings within caves carved out of the mountain. Racks of servers will now fill underground halls that once stored ammunition for NATO. The data center plans to draw cold water from an adjacent fjord and use it to cool data halls.

Eco-Park: The developers of the Mauritius Eco-Park have announced plans to develop a system to use sea water air conditioning (SWAC) to support data center tenants, tapping deep water currents that flow near the island nation. Cold water cooling systems that tap nearby bodies of water tend to have a high up-front cost in the pipe work, but offer huge savings over the long run.

DeepGreen: The DeepGreen data center is a 46 megawatt facility planned on the shores of Lake Walensee in Switzerland. The facility will be cooled using 43F source water from 197 feet below the surface, which will be brought in through dual redundant intake pipes to the pumping station. The pumps move 668,000 gallons per hour at full cooling load.

Interested in more news about cooling? Check out our Data Center Cooling category for the latest news and trends.

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