Circular Economy for the Data Centre Industry
The Data Centre Industry has grown rapidly and generates a large volume of eWaste / WEEE. The current infrastructure for dealing with this waste is underdeveloped and consequently, there is a real and urgent need to address this now. CEDaCI will build a Circular Economy for the Data Centre Industry by bringing together stakeholders from all equipment life cycle stages to turn this waste into a useful resource and support the ongoing rapid growth of the DCI.
Background and context
Since the development of the World Wide Web in the late 1980s, digital communication has proved incredibly popular and more than 4.2 billion (55% of global population) are now ‘connected’ via mobile phones, laptop, desk and other computers; consequently, approximately 8.6 million data centres have been set up around the world to handle the streams of digital information. These data centres may be cupboard-sized or, like the largest in the world, equivalent in area to 93 football pitches; regardless of size they all house digital data processing, networking and storage (ICT) equipment to ensure uninterrupted connectivity. At present in Europe data centres cover about 10 million m2 floor area, 70% of which is concentrated in North West Europe (NWE), especially in the UK, Germany, France and the Netherlands. The ongoing development of Internet of Things (IoT) and other services is creating concurrent growth in data exchange and storage and it is predicted that this will be met with a 300% increase in data centres in Europe by 2025 and a 500% global increase in data centres by 2030.
The main priority of the data centre (DC) industry is 100% uninterrupted operation and service to customers and consequently the sector has concentrated on technology and product development, manufacture and operation. At present DC equipment life is only 1-5 years and consideration of what happens to the equipment when it reaches end-of-life has been limited; as a result data centres contribute to the annual global production of 11.8 Mt/year of WEEE (Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment), which is the one of the fastest growing waste streams. Although some equipment remains in Europe a significant volume is exported; it may be recycled, stockpiled and/or sent to landfill and consequently millions of tonnes of resources are wasted and/or become inaccessible. WEEE contains a number of Critical Raw Materials (CRM) which are economically valuable and technically essential to data centre operation; however, their supply is vulnerable to disruption.
The CEDaCI project will build a Circular Economy for the Data Centre Industry to increase reclamation and reuse of Critical Raw Materials in the sector, extend product life through equipment reuse and remanufacture, reduce use of virgin materials, waste and environmental impact arising from the growth in redundant equipment and develop a secure and economically viable CRM supply chain for the sector. At present only 10% of CRM from the sector are recycled and recovered but this will increase to 19% and 24% 5 and 10 years after the project ends; reuse of equipment will also increase to 65% and 75% respectively and at end-of-life overall product ‘waste’ will be reduced to 35% and 25%.
Methodology and output
This will be achieved through a whole life approach to the problem: the project will bring together stakeholders from across the sector (designers, manufacturers, operators, refurbishers, recyclers) in a knowledge-sharing network; they will engage in a Co-creation Platform and 3 integrated Pilots for 3 life cycle stages (design, life extension and end-of-life). Project output includes: 2 products/processes/technologies developed & tested in real life conditions; EcoDesign/Design for CE Guidelines (to accelerate manufacture of CE-fit products); a Decision Making Tool (DMT) for all DC sub-sectors to optimise CE business models; and improved refurbishment, recycling and reclamation strategies for WEEE and CRM. These will feed into bespoke technical assistance (DMT training sessions) for 50 DCI businesses; advice and guidelines for policy-influencers and makers; and a physical and virtual demonstrator that explains the CE context, processes and benefits. A Long Term Strategy (LTS) with 10-year maintenance plan will ensure the project impact and long term legacy.
· Extended product life through second use and refurbishment
· Increase dematerialisation through improved EcoDesign Guidelines
· Increase WEEE collection, processing and recycling in the EU and adherence to EU regulations
· Create jobs in North West Europe
· Decrease illegal export of sectoral WEEE
· Limit stockpiling of resources overseas
· Ensure the control of NWE DCI materials’ supply chains and manufacture
This multi-disciplinary network brings together actors and experts from all life cycle stages and sub-sectors directly and indirectly associated with the Data Centre Industry. Network membership will help you to make the best choices to develop and grow your business sustainability, through access to example case studies, business models, and a Decision Making Tool. You can also connect to CEDaCI project partners and other Network members and identify business opportunities.
Lead Partner · LSBU - Dr Deborah Andrews