French data center operator Data4 has launched a new project exploring whether waste heat generated by one of its facilities can be used to grow algae.

The company is working with the Université Paris-Saclay on the project at its Marcoussis data center campus, in the Essonne region south of Paris.

Data center waste heat could help grow algae – David Brown/Pexels

It will look at whether it is possible to reproduce a natural photosynthesis mechanism by using some of the captured CO2 in data center waste heat to grow algae. This can then be used as biomass to develop new sources of circular energy, or in the manufacture of bioproducts for other industries, such as cosmetics or agri-food.

Linda Lescuyer, innovation manager at Data4, said: “This augmented biomass project meets two of the major challenges of our time: food security and the energy transition. It requires close collaboration between all the players in the Essonne region, including Data4, to develop a genuine industrial ecology project aimed at pooling resources and reducing consumption in the region.

“Thanks to this partnership with the Fondation Université Paris Saclay, we have the opportunity to draw on one of the most prestigious scientific communities in the world, with a common objective of a circular energy economy.”

A multi-disciplinary team from several organizations will be called in to work on the project.

Patrick Duvaut, vice-president of the Université Paris-Saclay said a feasibility study had allowed the team “to calculate the efficiency of this carbon capture, which can be 20 times greater than that of a tree (for an equivalent surface area).”

The project got underway earlier this year. Data4 said it is also exploring other ways to reuse waste heat, including district heating systems for nearby homes.

Founded in 2006, the company currently operates 29 data centers in France, Italy, Spain, Poland, and Luxembourg. Future developments include a data center planned for a former army barracks in Hanau, Germany that could reach 200,000 sqm (2.1 million sq ft) and 180MW. Last year it revealed it is building a new PAR3 campus on a 22-hectare site in Nozay, Essone.

Waste heat has been used for a number of agricultural uses over the years, including greenhouses and aquafarms. As well as Equinix in Paris, EcoDataCenter in Sweden has a partnership with circular economy firm Wa3rm, while Block Heating in the Netherlands has a facility colocated with a greenhouse that grows tomatoes. In Japan, the White Data Center uses waste heat to cultivate eels, while Green Mountain is giving warmth to a local lobster farm in Norway.