Event Report: Circular Economy Lab # 23

With increasing digitization, there are more and more larger data centers in the Netherlands. These are filled with hardware such as data servers that consume a lot of energy in the production and use phase. Together with experts and frontrunners, we identify the bottlenecks and determine how circular solutions can be reached and scaled up. In particular, the guiding role of clients in the context of circular procurement and tendering is discussed. In collaboration with regional knowledge and innovation broker Utrecht Sustainability Institute (USI), a diptych on circular data servers and circular procurement of ICT at the workplace has been organized.

The main question is how circular data servers become accessible and scalable. Data servers have a major impact on the environment. Given the exponential growth of data traffic, and the increase in the number of larger data centers in the Netherlands, this problem is only getting more acute. The current contribution of the ICT sector to global emissions is already estimated by researchers at about 3-6%, which is released during the production and use of hardware1, 2. If the current growth line continues, this will be 14% in 2040.

This is comparable to the greenhouse gas emissions of the global transport sector. The Netherlands is by no means a small player in this. It is the number 1 data hub in Europe with the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area at the forefront. To date, the public debate has focused on the high energy consumption of data centers and the use of residual heat. But also very important – and still underexposed – is the fact that the production of data servers costs a lot of energy (embodied energy) (35-45% of the impact over the total lifespan) and that they contain critical metals. Namely 10 of the 30 critical resources, some of which will be exhausted in 10-40 years if we continue like this. The growth of data centers and the short depreciation period of servers means that critical metals are quickly running out and that we are wasting a lot of material and energy. In the Netherlands, for example, half a million servers are discarded annually (7.4 ktonnes; based on figures for 2016). Making data servers circular is therefore of great importance and is therefore central.

Lower Energy Acceleration Program

There is a lot of potential for circular solutions. After all, servers are built modularly. In practice, it appears that the market demand for these solutions for data servers is still low. What can we improve together in that situation? The central question of this Lab is which solutions are already possible and what we can put into practice. What can the guiding role of buyers be in this? Making the ICT sector more energy efficient and circular is an important spearhead for the Amsterdam Economic Board. The Board therefore has the initiative LEAP | Lower Energy Acceleration Program set up in close collaboration with companies, knowledge institutions and governments in the Amsterdam region. ICT and data server use is an important spearhead in this. This Lab and the previous one are the start of the work that the Board will be doing within LEAP on the theme of Circular.

Part 1 covers the introduction, the first pitch of NLdigital and panel discussion about the current state of affairs in circularity and data servers. Part 2 continues with KPN’s second pitch and a panel discussion on the broader application of circular data servers and the practical tools for buyers.

More information

Click here for the presentation, report and recording of the meeting on circular data servers.

You can read the information about Lab 22 about Circular procurement of ICT here .

One will appear soon report about circular data servers.

6 January 2021

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