Vertiv goes against the grain with wooden datacenters for greener bytes

Will timber tech take root or just go up in flames?

Datacenter infrastructure biz Vertiv is offering a wooden version of its prefabricated modular structures, claiming these have a reduced carbon footprint compared to steel alternatives.

Vertiv said its TimberMod prefabricated modules are a variant of its existing Power Module and SmartMod products, but use "mass timber" in place of steel. This is a generic term that typically refers to joining together layers of wood to create a structural material.

The prefabricated modules are built to house standard IT infrastructure, including racks, electrical distribution and cooling systems, and can function as self-contained enclosures that can be quickly deployed in different environments.

According to Vertiv, mass timber can be regarded as a renewable construction material if sourced from sustainably harvested wood. The company claims it can offer a carbon footprint that is one-third that of steel's, based on the reduction of CO2 emissions associated with the cradle-to-gate product lifecycle and transport of materials and structural elements to the assembly site.

The TimberMod design is said to meet applicable structural requirements to face seismic activity, wind forces, and structural demands, according to the company.

Yes, but what about fire? Well, it depends who you ask. According to the Think Wood campaign, mass timber structures have comfortably passed fire resistance tests. According to a fire safety expert, however, it depends upon the design and construction, but he was referring in that instance to larger mass-timber buildings that are being constructed around the world.

Vertiv's VP and EMEA leader for Integrated Modular Solutions, Viktor Petik, said that TimberMod can help reduce datacenter carbon footprints.

"By incorporating materials from renewable sources, Vertiv TimberMod not only provides a more eco-friendly option but does so without compromising on performance, thus creating a positive impact on both the environment and our customers' operational efficiency."

Building structures out of wood may not, however, always be as sustainable and climate-friendly as is claimed.

Although using wood instead of concrete and steel can reduce emissions, some of the studies that have looked into this were based on the false premise that harvesting wood is carbon neutral, according to a report in New Scientist.

Tim Searchinger of the Center for Policy Research on Energy and the Environment at Princeton University, is quoted as stating that only a small percentage of the wood gets into a timber product. Significant amounts of a harvested tree are "left to decompose, used in short-lived products like paper or burned for energy, all of which generate emissions," he said.

In Princeton's study, researchers found there could be emission reductions if wood was sourced from fast-growing plantations such as in Brazil, but in general, a large increase in global demand for wood would probably lead to rising emissions for decades.

Vertiv claimed that using timber also adds "an aesthetic dimension" to datacenter architecture.

TimberMod is now available in North America and in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), the company told us.

Vertiv said it can facilitate rapid deployment of the prefabricated modular structures, including commissioning, ongoing maintenance, remote monitoring, and training. ®

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