Circular economy specialist ITRenew has teamed up with Dutch cloud hoster Blockheating to offer all-in-one containerized data centers that recycle waste heat for greenhouses.

Blockheating makes 200kW Edge data centers in containers, using liquid cooling so the servers' waste heat can be provided as water at 65°C (149°F) to nearby greenhouses. Under the partnership, the containers will be stocked with ITRenew's Sesame rack-scale compute and storage systems, made from Open Compute Project hardware which has been recycled from hyperscale players like Facebook.

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A 60kW blockheating prototype installed by a tomato greenhouse in May 2019 – Blockheating

Greenhouse opportunities

The Netherlands has over 3,700 hectares of commercial greenhouses, according to the joint announcement. A containerized data center next to a greenhouse can heat two hectares in the summer and half a hectare in the winter, which Blockheating says is enough to grow tons of tomatoes every year. More importantly, the heat provided as a waste product from the data center is much cheaper than natural gas, and reduces the amount of gas burnt by the farmers to heat their greenhouses, cutting emissions.

Turning waste heat into a waste product into a resource has been an idea for a long time, but air-cooled servers deliver their heat in warm air, which is very difficult to transport and use. Blockheating says it has a "new way of watercooling servers" that makes it cost-effective, and carried out a 60kW pilot test at Venlo, near the German border in 2019. Blockheating's production systems have a capacity of 200kW - because they are liquid cooled, they do away with the hardware and energy demands of air conditioning.

"With minimal adjustments, we provide the grower with savings on his energy consumption and the opportunity to take steps towards gasless cultivation," Blockheating CEO Jeroen Burks told Groenten Nieuws at the time of the pilot.

Alongside recycling its own waste heat, Blockheating turned to ITRenew because it wanted to reduce the embodied energy and emissions associated with its data center hardware. ITRenew's Sesame provides recertified hyperscale data center technology, deferring up to 25 percent of the CO2 and eWaste associated with IT, and giving customers what ITRenew describes as "the financial and carbon-reduction benefits of circularity".

“Blockheating is an innovative, fast-growing European solutions and infrastructure company, with a commitment to green business. Like us, they recognize that sustainable data center models, implemented in the right way, also enable market-leading performance and economics," said Ali Fenn, President, ITRenew.

“ITRenew is an ideal partner for us. They share our view that waste is a choice, which means something only becomes waste if you decide it has no use anymore.” said Jeroen Burks.