In a remote location just below the north face of Aspen Mountain in Wyoming, there’s a futuristic greenfield data center project underway that plans to combine an array of forward-leaning strategies, including immersion cooling, renewable energy, a geothermal aquifer for heat exchange, prefabricated construction, carbon impact tracking and reusing waste heat to support an indoor farm.
The Wyoming Hyperscale White Box data center is under construction near Evanston, Wyoming and represents a blueprint for creating super-efficient data centers with low impact on the environment and benefits for the local community.
To bring this vision to life, Wyoming Hyperscale team has assembled a team of experienced data center companies, who recently presented an overview of the project at the 7×24 Exchange Fall Conference in San Antonio and the Open Compute Summit in San Jose.
“With our forward-thinking partners, we are setting the new standard for mission-critical facilities with this sustainable data center ecosystem,” said Trenton Thornock, the founder and managing member of Wyoming Hyperscale White Box. “Traditional development practices need to be reimagined. We need to get our heads out of the box, so data centers are looked at as a community asset, not as something taking up community resources and water.”
Thornock said that the concept has generated enough interest that Wyoming Hyperscale is planning additional 30-megawatt data center projects in Tucson and Phoenix.
“Everything we’re doing here (in Wyoming) translates to other places,” said Thornock. “Because we have no HVAC systems, we don’t need concrete walls. Metal clear span construction takes less time and can be recycled. This kind of facility is less expensive to operate, and the tenant gets more compute.”
The project plans to track the carbon impact of its construction activities and operations and share the data on a public website.
Rethinking data center design
Wyoming Hyperscale is among a group of developments seeking to pioneer new approaches to data center design to reduce their impact on the environment and community. These designs feature exceptional efficiency and seek to integrate features like on-site renewable energy, microgrids, grid-interactive UPS systems, waterless cooling, waste heat reuse, nickel-zinc batteries, and on-site recycling of construction materials and equipment.
As the data center industry faces growing scrutiny about its climate action, the end goal should be a “regenerative data center,” according to Steven Carlini, Vice President of Innovation and Data Center for Schneider Electric.
“The ultimate goal is a self-sustaining data center defined by renewable power generation on-site, water neutrality, and 100% circular materials eliminating all landfill waste,” writes Carlini.
The Wyoming project is one of the most ambitious efforts in this direction, using immersion cooling to eliminate much of the infrastructure used with traditional air-cooled data centers. Using immersion enables extreme density, efficiency and sustainability, according to John Gross, the President of JM Gross Engineering.
“There are processors now that are at 700 watts a socket,” said Gross. “There are companies working on processors that will be 1.5 kW a socket. You can’t cool that with air. There is a technology shift that’s happening and it is driving us towards liquid cooling.”
Cooling specialist Submer is providing the immersion cooling technology, in which servers are dunked in tanks of cooling fluid to manage rising heat densities. This approach also has the potential to slash the cost of data center infrastructure, allowing users to operate servers without a raised floor, computer room air conditioning (CRAC) units or chillers.
This also has benefits for energy efficiency. Wyoming Hyperscale expects to operate at a PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness) of just 1.08, with a water usage effectiveness of 0.0 – all with Tier III resiliency.
“A lot of the things we were talking about are enabled by the liquid cooling and heat design,” said Gross. “This is an all in PUE.”
The wilds of Wyoming may seem an odd place for huge data centers. But the site sits on a major east-west fiber highway that tracks the 41st parallel, along which data center hubs have emerged in places like Ohio, Iowa, Nebraska and Utah. The Union-Pacific Railroad line, which provides key right-of-ways for fiber deployment, runs through nearby Aspen Mountain. Lumen will provide networking and security services for the project.
The data center is being built on land owned by Thornock’s family, which has been involved in ranching for 6 generations. The location benefits from ready access to renewable energy from nearby wind and solar farms.
Wyoming Hyperscale has a contract with Rocky Mountain Power for 120 megawatts of power and a 138 kV substation, which is fed by the same switchgear as the renewable energy generation sites.
“The way that we’ve approached this development is probably different from most data centers,” said Thornock. “We wanted to avoid using water. that’s become a very big issue in the entire Colorado River Basin.”
To accomplish that, Wyoming Hyperscale is creating a geothermal cooling design that integrates a large aquifer underneath the site. The cool water from the aquifer is used in a closed-loop heat exchange system that removes heat from the immersion tanks at the data center, ships hot water to an indoor farm for reuse, and then returns water to the aquifer. system.
“When we get into liquid cooling, you get higher heat capacity from engineered fluids,” said Sam Allen, Director of Mission Critical at Burns & McDonnell, which works with hyperscale operators. “Because we are increasing fluid temperature, we have an almost endless opportunity for heat reuse. The benefits are huge for a community.”
That’s the impetus for the Wyoming Hyperscale Indoor Farm, which will use heat from the data center in a hot water system to support the operation of a large greenhouse on a 30-acre site. The goal is to help feed the Wasatch Valley, which currently relies upon produce shipped from the Central Valley of California. The farm could reduce reliance on imported produce, easing the water impact for California farms and reducing truck traffic that generates emissions.
Reusing waste heat from servers is rare in the US, but seen more often in Europe, where data centers can share warm air with district heating systems for commercial or residential developments. District heating is not widely used in the US, however.
“Out of all the heat reuse cases, this is the easiest to develop,” said Thornock. “A greenhouse normally doesn’t work in Wyoming. It really boils down to economics. Without a data center as a heat source, indoor farming is not practical in this area because the energy cost is too high.”
Nickel-Zinc Batteries for UPS
The project will feature a number of other forward-leaning approaches to data centers.
- Wyoming Hyperscale will use nickel-zinc batteries from ZincFive in its UPS (uninterruptible power supply) systems rather than traditional lead-acid batteries or newer lithium-ion technology. ZincFive says its chemistry performs well in high-drain applications because of the higher energy-to-mass and power-to-mass ratios and are ideal for megawatt (MW) class UPS inverters found in today’s hyperscale data center environments.
- The project will use off-site prefabrication to create its data halls.
- Wyoming Hyperscale is embracing the designs from the Open Compute Project, which are used by many hyperscale data centers. “This is an ecosystem, not just a data center,” said Don Mitchell of Victaulic, Co-Lead for Cooling Environments at the Open Compute Project.
The project team includes FFKR Architects, Gensler, JM Gross Engineering, Burns & McDonnell, Layton Construction and leasing platform UPSTACK.
“We’ve tapped the industry’s pre-eminent experts in every field to help us realize our goal to create the most sustainable high-density data center,” said Thornock.
For now, the Wyoming Hyperscale is under construction. It remains to be seen if major hyperscale tenants will embrace the vision. Thornock says that his design addresses the economics of hyperscale operators.
“They won’t pay more for this than for their current services.” said Thornock. “It has to make sense economically.”
Here’s a video of the Wyoming Hyperscale presentation at the Open Compute Summit in October.