Steel Orca: Green Data Center Atop Old Steel Mill

Pennsylvania company Steel Orca is developing a large data center that plans to tap the Delaware River for its cooling system and power its servers using electricity generated from landfills and solar panels.

Rich Miller

May 16, 2011

4 Min Read
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The site of an old steel plant site across the river from Trenton, New Jersey might seem an odd location for a "green" data center. But not to Steel Orca, a Pennsylvania company that is developing a large data center that plans to tap the Delaware River for its cooling system and power its servers using electricity generated from landfills and solar panels.

Steel Orca is planning a 300,000 square foot data center at the Keystone Industrial Port Complex (KIPC), an "eco-industrial" business park that has risen atop the former home of the US Steel-Fairless Works factory in Fairless Hills, Pa. The steel mill was once a lynchpin of the Bucks County economy, employing up to 7,000 workers before closing in 2001. The property is undergoing a transformation around the theme of renewable energy, with new tenants including wind Gamesa, which makes blades for wind turbines, and solar panel manufacturer AE Polysilicon.

Today Steel Orca said that it has also hired HP Critical Facilities as a "trusted advisor" to guide the design and development of the project. The project went public earlier this month with the news that it had hired Gilbane Building Company to handle the construction of the new data center. Pre-construction site work has already begun, according to a release from Gilbane, with construction on the 50,000 square foot first phase planned to break ground this fall and be completed by the second quarter of 2012.

Turnkey Colo and Wholesale Space
Steel ORCA Bucks County DC will provide turnkey data center solutions that include co-location, managed hosting and professional services. The project will be housed in a 700,000 square foot facility that will be built from the ground up, and include 300,000 square feet of  data center space, according to CEO David Crocker.

"This data center will be (one of) the largest, most ecologically considerate and efficient data centers on Earth,” said Crocker. "We are developing disruptive technologies. We are able to fulfill our vision of building a data center that addresses concerns by many data center clients focused on mandates and incentives to reduce carbon footprint, yet provide optimal high-density and high-performance computing."

Crocker also cited the importance of HP's role in key decisions on design and deployment of the facility. "HP’s Trusted Advisor service guided us in developing a world-class data center program strategy and design," he said Crocker. "They are now in charge of the design and will oversee the building and commissioning of the facility."

Sustainable Design, On-Site Renewables
Crocker heads a management team that has a strong entrepreneurial background but no direct experience developing data centers, a business where capital requirements set a fairly high barrier to entry for new market participants. But the Steel Orca team has developed a plan that integrates many facets of sustainable data center design, and found a site with several existing sources of renewable energy.

The KIPC complex is adjacent to Exelon Power's Fairless Hills Station, which generates electricity using methane gases from a nearby Tullytown and GROWS landfills owned by Waste Management Inc. All of the electricity generated at the Exelon plant goes to the KIPC system, while the electricity which is not consumed at the KIPC is sent to the local power grid. The 2-unit power plant now has the capacity to produce up to 60 megawatts of electricity.

The KIPC site also has access to 2 megawatts of solar power generation from the Exelon-Conergy Solar Energy Center, which features 17,000 solar panels on a 16.5-acre tract of land adjacent to Waste Management’s GROWS Landfill. Crocker says Steel Orca also expects to offer clients wind power and geo-thermal energy options.

Using the Delaware for Cooling
Crocker said Steel Orca intends to use water from the Delaware River in its cooling systems.  Using cool water from a local body of water can allow a data center to operate without energy-hungry chillers, and also limits the facility’s impact on local water utilities. Google will use cool sea water in the cooling system for its new data center in Hamina, Finland, while the Deep Green data center in Switzerland will use cools water from the depths of Lake Walensee in its cooling system.

The data center will be built in 12,500 square foot data halls. The 50,000 square foot first phase will include four data halls, and Crocker says Steel Orca expects to line up on anchor tenant soon. "I"m quite confident that the first phase will be spoken for," he said.

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