Digital Realty ditches diesel for salad dressing in US to cut datacenter emissions

Hydrotreated vegetable oil to power bit barns stateside after successful Euro trial

Datacenter operator Digital Realty is replacing diesel with hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) at sites in the US in a bid to reduce carbon dioxide emissions following a successful trial in Europe.

The global bit barn provider said that HVO will be introduced first at three of its sites in California and Oregon as an alternative to diesel for powering its backup generators. It expects this will help it avoid approximately 12,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions, compared with previous years.

Those three sites will be the PDX12 facility in Hillsboro, Oregon, SC1 in Santa Clara, California, and LAX12 in El Segundo, California, according to Digital Realty.

HVO, often referred to as a renewable or fossil-free form of diesel, is a biofuel made from processing vegetable oils or other residue oils. Digital Realty said that it already uses this at over 20 sites across Europe, and with this deployment in the US, it will be using HVO in seven global markets, covering about 15 percent of its global operating portfolio.

Vice President of Sustainability Aaron Binkley hailed it as a significant milestone in its pursuit of solutions to address the environmental impact of operating huge data dormitories.

"We are pleased to be adopting HVO in the US for datacenters, and to be setting a new standard for datacenter sustainability worldwide," Binkley said in a statement.

But Digital Realty isn't the only datacenter operator turning to HVO as an alternative to diesel. Last year, AWS said it was switching to the biofuel for backup power generators at its facilities in Europe, with sites in Ireland and Sweden the first to make the move.

HVO has advantages over other biodiesel replacements, in that it does not require any modification to the backup generators and remains stable in cold winter temperatures. It is also said to deliver similar performance to conventional diesel.

However, there are some potential disadvantages. Although CO2 and soot emissions are greatly reduced compared with standard diesel, nitrogen and particulate emissions are said to be almost the same.

Costs were also said to be higher at one point due to limited supplies of feedstock, but can now be made from a wider range of materials, including waste byproducts.

Digital Realty claims that use of HVO has reduced its fuel-related lifecycle carbon emissions by 90 percent in France, and the company has since deployed the fuel across multiple sites in Amsterdam and Madrid as well.

This time last year, Digital Realty was lining up renewable energy projects such as solar and wind power for datacenters in the Asia-Pacific region as part of efforts to reduce CO2 emissions there.

Other alternative power sources include hydrogen fuel cells, which one European datacenter operator pioneered as a backup power source in 2022. Since then, their use has been expanded to being investigated as the primary power for bit barns, while others are turning to more extravagant alternatives such as nuclear power. ®

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