Arklow biogas facility could create renewable energy for data centre

13 Apr 2021

Anaerobic digestion biogas plant. Image: Biocore

A new biogas production facility will be co-located with the 100MW Echelon data centre in Arklow.

Two Irish companies have joined forces to explore how their facilities could be powered more sustainably.

Biocore Environmental has agreed to co-locate a biogas production facility with a 100MW Echelon data centre in Arklow, Co Wicklow.

Irish-owned data centre operator Echelon currently has six facilities under development in Ireland and the UK with a potential combined capacity of around 500MW, including one in Arklow.

Biocore was founded in 2010 and generates renewable power from biosolids. It specialises in producing methane gas through the anaerobic digestion process, which can be used to power combined heat and power generators producing electricity, or which can be processed further and supplied directly to the national gas network.

It is expected that there will be a symbiotic relationship between the new biogas production facility and the data centre. While the heat generated by the data centre can be used to maintain Biocore’s biogas production process, the biogas can produce back-up power for the data centre.

Additionally, Biocore managing director Declan Murray said part of the gas-cleaning process produces carbon dioxide, which can be used as a fertiliser for plant products cultivated under cover.

“Biogas production is a virtuous circle – we take organic materials that can, themselves, become environmental pollutants, and transform them into gas either for supply to the gas network, or for use in generating power,” he said.

“The residue from the production process is dried and re-supplied to the farms from which much of our organic feedstock can be sourced. This residue makes an excellent fertiliser – and means that none of the organic material goes to waste.”

‘Landmark initiative’

Niall Molloy, CEO of Echelon Data Centres, said since the need for data centres isn’t going anywhere, data centre operators have a responsibility to ensure these facilities are powered sustainably.

“The inconvenient truth is that data centres are huge consumers of power, but equally inconvenient is the fact that without them, we would not be enjoying the benefits of 5G, e-commerce, the internet of things, artificial intelligence and virtual reality,” he said.

“Our agreement with Biocore, which would see a renewable biogas facility co-located with a 100MW data centre on our site is a landmark initiative, which could assist in providing a renewable back-up power solution for the facility, while also making productive use of organic material and returning value in terms of fertiliser stock for Irish agriculture.”

Last November, Echelon Data Centres signed a deal with SSE Renewables, which will see the development of a 220kV substation in Arklow. This new €50m infrastructure will facilitate the development of Echelon’s Arklow data centre as well as a large-scale offshore windfarm with an export capacity of 520MW.

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic