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Following the leader

Image: Adobe Stock / Connect world

Whack out the vegetable oil, summer is here. But, this isn’t for tanning, oh no. Kao Data has finally become the first European data centre to transition all its back up generators to HVO (hydrotreated vegetable oil) fuel, making it a world leader in this arena.

Kao managed to achieve this by partnering with Crown Oil (always helpful), and as a result, will be able to eliminate up to 90% of net CO2 from its backup generators. This will of course help significantly reduce all those nasty pollutants data centres kick out, such as nitrogen oxide, particulate matter and carbon monoxide emissions.

But it would seem Kao are leading by example, as it isn’t just HVO they’ve gotten on board with. Some of the company’s existing green initiatives include the use of 100% renewable energy, the use of 100% refrigerant-free indirect evaporative cooling, and a PUE of >1.2 even at partial load, thanks to a hyperscale inspired design.

And of course, how could a data centre company claim to be pro-planet without being part of the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact (CNDCP), with the use of Crown Oil HVO fuel marking another significant step in Kao’s plans to become a fully carbon neutral data centre operator by 2030.

HVO is produced by synthesising vegetable oils using a specialist hydro treatment process, resulting in one of the cleanest fuels on the market. It has been designed to improve performance inadequacies of earlier biofuels, offering better burning efficiency and the same level of resilience as traditional fossil fuels.

And it’s not just its clean credentials that makes HVO an excellent choice; it also offers a myriad of additional benefits when it comes to infrastructure reliability, as well the ability to eliminate microbial growth, which, if left untreated, generates a delightful sludge that can gum up and contaminate fuel lines, potentially leading to engine shut down, and ain’t nobody got time for that.

What’s more, is HVO doesn’t need any mods to existing infrastructure and can be used as a straight swap for diesel. Its storage life is also 10 times that of your standard diesel fuel and is resilient all year round in both hot and cold temperatures. It’s easier to maintain, free from aromatics, sulphur and metals, odourless and completely biodegradable – a real Swiss-army knife of a biofuel if ever I saw one.

So why isn’t everyone using it?

Despite all the benefits, there are some key considerations to make before making the switch, as although it comes close, and is better than the biofuels that came before, HVO doesn’t seamlessly replicate gas oil performance, due to the lower level of impurities present within it. Here, its cleanliness is its downfall.

This (slight) loss of performance, is due the fact HVO differs from diesel in having a higher cetane number (up to 90, compared to mineral diesel’s 51), therefore it releases more energy per kilogramme. However, it is a lighter, less dense fuel so releases slightly less energy per litre with significant overall greenhouse gas reductions.

We also have to factor in the cost. HVO production globally is limited, and production volumes are much lower than that of mineral diesel. This creates additional costs in the supply chain, meaning you can expect to pay a little more for HVO material.

That said, the likes of Crown Oil are apparently working very hard to minimise such costs throughout the supply chain, and as the adoption of HVO increases, these should only reduce further. But remember, money isn’t everything people and it’s going to be pretty dang useless if we end up without a planet to spend it on.

At the end of the day, HVO is a viable, practical and cost-effective alternative to diesel for those data centre facilities that want to improve their carbon footprint. It’s great to see key players such as Kao leading the way when it comes to making more sustainable choices, here’s hoping more follow suit.

This editorial originally appeared in the Data Centre Review Newsletter July 23, 2021. To ensure you receive these editorials direct to your inbox, you can subscribe to our weekly newsletter here.

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