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Locally produced vegetables with heat from datacenters

Can waste heat from data centers be used for vegetable growing? Researchers from RISE data center in Luleå will answer that question. The goal is to be able to increase local food production and to establish sustainable organic farming where the climate normally puts an end to it.

Locally grown vegetables are short in supply in many parts of Sweden. One important cause is the climate, especially in the north of Sweden. The growing season for crops is simply too short to be profitable and the vegetable gardens need applied heat which makes it more expensive to get the vegetables to grow.  

Something that does grow despite the Swedish climate on the contrary is the data center industry, especially in northern parts of Sweden. Here, the problem is the reverse; the plants generate too much heat and need to be cooled down. In a collaboration between Luleå University of Technology, The Foodprint Lab and RISE, researchers are now exploring the possibilities of using waste heat from data centers to heat greenhouses used for vegetable cultivation.

Suzanna Törnroth, a PhD student at LTU and part of the project team, has previously been involved in the project Grow Gothenburg together with her research colleague Cristina Ramos Caceres. They got the inspiration for the project after having carried out several workshops and interviews with small-scale growers.

– From an environmental perspective, it is very important to find ways to encourage local growers to produce their own food, says Suzanna Törnroth.

Mattias Vesterlund, researcher at RISE says that the main purpose of the project is to find technical, economic and social synergies between greenhouses and data centers, which in turn can contribute to increased local production of vegetables from small-scale food producers.

– In the long run our vision is to benefit from and provide the conditions for a competitive and sustainable agriculture in the Nordic region. We will focus on increasing the energy content of waste heat by means of better, liquid-based, cooling systems and optimization of the transport of heat between data center and greenhouse, ”says Mattias Vesterlund.

Tor Björn Minde, Lab manager at RISE ICE in Luleå, welcomes the initiative and sees the project as an exciting addition to the activities at the data center:

– We usually say that we work with everything between the earth and the clouds in our facility, and we have a big focus on energy efficiency and cooling of data centers. It will be exciting to see if we can find methods to use the surplus heat from our data centers to strengthen operations that at a first glance are very far from what we normally associate with data centers, concludes Tor Björn Minde.

The project will continue until 2020, and is funded by Vinnova. The research team includes researchers from RISE, Luleå University of Technology and The Foodprint Lab.

Published: 2019-05-09