Vantage Data Centers has this month announced its continued deployment of hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) to replace conventional diesel fuel in its generators. The company said it will now roll out usage of renewable, diesel-like HVO in several of its largest markets in North America and EMEA.
Initially deployed as a pilot at Vantage’s Cardiff, Wales campus in 2022, the company noted its deployment of HVO as an alternative to diesel fuel has yielded significant progress toward its decarbonization goals, without incurring a need to deploy new or updated infrastructure.
Given the success of the pilot project, Vantage now reports that it has officially implemented HVO at its newest facility, CWL13, on its Cardiff site, and is currently working to deploy the renewable fuel throughout the rest of the campus. In addition, Vantage reports that will deploy HVO fuel for generators in Santa Clara, California, one of its North American flagship markets, by the end of this year. The company said it is planning deployments in additional markets subject to fuel availability.
Amanda Abell, senior director of sustainability at Vantage, noted that making the switch to renewable diesel is one of the many ways the company is reducing the carbon emissions of its operations.
"Reaching net zero by 2030 is an incredibly ambitious goal that will require us to implement a wide variety of solutions," remarked Abell. "Our focus is on maintaining reliability and affordability, while achieving emissions reductions. We look forward to continuing the rollout of HVO at our campuses across North America and EMEA, where available, in addition to the other programs we have in place to reach our sustainability targets.”
More about HVO
According to fuel suppliers, the use of HVO reduces lifecycle carbon emissions by 65-90%, as compared to conventional diesel. Repurposing waste oils like vegetable oil to create sustainable fuels significantly reduces a building's embodied carbon due to the cleaner sourcing and creation process.
Leveraging HVO offers an actionable opportunity for Vantage and other data center operators to take a positive step toward reducing their carbon emissions. The use of renewable diesel fuels significantly reduces the embodied carbon of the fuel consumed in diesel generators, which helps to reduce Scope 3 emissions associated with a data center's supply chain.
HVO is a synthetic “biodiesel” fuel developed from vegetable oils and fats, including feedstocks like tall oil, soybean oil, waste cooking oil and animal fats. HVO is 100% biodegradable and non-toxic, offering a more sustainable fuel option, while delivering the same level of functionality as traditional diesel.
It has similar chemical properties as diesel oil produced from fossil fuels. The source oils are heated with hydrogen and catalysts at high temperature (typically 300 to 390 C) and pressure. The resulting fuel requires no major modifications to existing infrastructure and can be used as a direct replacement for diesel. It eliminates microbial growth, which generates sludge that can contaminate fuel lines and potentially lead to engine shut down.
Major vendors including Caterpillar, Cummins and Kohler Power have approved HVO for use in their generators.
There are certain challenges with HVO, including whether production can keep pace with the demands of fast-growing cloud campuses. But as hyperscale customers are now demanding greener options for sustainable backup power as a key competitive factor, an April 2023 white paper from Kohler, hosted at Data Center Frontier, recounts the many sustainability advantages of HVO for diesel generators.
As noted by Kohler, HVO is now a standardized and reliable renewable fuel offering increased performances versus first-generation FAME [Fatty Acid Methyl Ester, the generic chemical term for biodiesel derived from renewable sources]. The manufacturer further notes that HVO is a fuel and sustainable energy source that stands to replace fossil fuels like ultralow-sulfur diesel (ULSD) in the US and Non Road Diesel (NRD) in Europe.
Use of HVO can reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions such as CO2 by up to 90% throughout a generator’s life cycle. The white paper further describes how HVO is is a rapid and efficient response to the sustainable environmental challenges of reducing emissions, and an economical way for data centers to reduce GHG without investing in expensive new technologies.
Charting the HVO trend for data centers
Data Center Frontier has previously noted the trend of a growing number of data centers turning to vegetable oil to reduce their impact on the environment, adopting fuels based on HVO to fuel the generators that provide backup power and replacing diesel fuel.
June 2022 reporting from DCF's Rich Miller described how, at that time, Compass Datacenters had become the latest company to adopt fuels based on HVO to fuel the generators that provide backup power for their campuses. The initial Compass rollout included generators at the company's sites in Northern Virginia, Arizona and Texas, with Foster Fuels providing the HVO.
Importantly, Miller's reporting noted that a key turning point in the data center industry’s approach to backup power came in July 2020, when Microsoft announced that it would eliminate its reliance on diesel fuel by the year 2030 as part of its goal to be carbon negative. With its deadline, Microsoft set in motion a push in the industry to replace diesel generators with cleaner technologies.
In data released in June 2023, industry researcher Arizton Advisory & Intelligence predicted that the data center generator market will create over $3 billion in investment opportunities by 2028, while stating that the innovation of using HVO fuel is creating buzz in the industry. The buzz is evidenced by numerous recent deployments, including the following:
- In July 2022, Datum Datacentres announced its plan to adopt HVO as a fuel for its diesel generators.
- In October 2022, LCL Data Centers announced the adoption of HVO fuel for its generators in the LCL Brussels-West data center facility in Aalst, Belgium. The company plans to replace diesel and use HVO fuel across all its data center facilities in the long term.
- In January 2023, Kohler announced to shift to adopting HVO for its generator test site in France.
- In March 2023, AWS announced its plans to adopt HVO for the backup generator powering its data centers in Dublin, Ireland. AWS further announced a shift to the use of HVO across all of its data centers in Europe
Vantage partners with Data Center Coalition (DCC)
As background for its advances with HVO fuel, Vantage Data Centers noted that since 2022, it has partnered with the Data Center Coalition (DCC) and its members to lead a technical working group focused on driving market support for HVO as availability and costs vary by geography.
“Vantage is working with industry through the Data Center Coalition to accelerate the viability and use of renewable diesel fuels,” commented Mark Freeman, vice president, global marketing and public policy at Vantage and Data Center Coalition board member.
Freeman added, “By collaborating and sharing information with peers, it helps the entire sector move faster. It is our hope that through partnerships we can convince policy makers, stakeholders and supply chains of the HVO benefits and enlist their help in achieving the widespread production and distribution of the renewable fuel in markets that lack reliable, cost-effective and timely access today.”
Based in the Northern Virginia area - where HVO prices are approximately 95 percent higher than diesel fuel - DCC seeks to influence the supply chain and stakeholders to unlock increased availability of HVO.
Josh Levi, president of the DCC, observed, “There is strong industry interest in transitioning from diesel as quickly as is practical. While there are no ‘silver bullet’ technological solutions available today to replace backup diesel generators at scale, data centers are actively seeking and evaluating alternatives that can provide environmental sustainability benefits and similar reliability, fuel availability, siting flexibility and workplace safety protections.”
Levi added, “We are seeing widespread interest in leveraging hydrotreated vegetable oil as an alternative to conventional diesel. In fact, a recent member survey found that 92 percent of respondents are interested in piloting renewable diesel in the Northern Virginia market within the next one to two years. We’re pleased to see support for this sustainable fuel and will continue to work closely with member companies as we advocate to speed the viability and availability of alternative, reliable sources for backup energy.”
Generator run-time reduction measures factor in
In addition to Vantage’s continued rollout of HVO, the company said it is also implementing generator run-time reduction measures to eliminate the creation of emissions from the start.
By using an optimized staged implementation of testing and maintenance procedures, Vantage anticipates achieving a 25 to 75 percent reduction in fuel consumption and associated emissions.
Vantage said it is also installing active emissions control systems known as Selective Catalytic Reductions (SCRs) on generators in select markets.
SCRs reduce nitrogen oxide emitted from the company’s diesel generators by up to 90%. SCRs are already installed at many facilities across Vantage’s Warsaw, Berlin, Frankfurt and California campuses, with additional installations planned for the future.
Regarding generator technology at large, Arizton's latest data indicates that the data center market has grown in adopting generator sets with a 1.5-3 MW capacity. In contrast, hyperscale facilities are expected to invest in generators with a capacity of over 3 MW.
The researcher adds that the market for generators with a capacity of up to 1.5 MW has witnessed investments from edge facilities or on-premises data center operators. Meanwhile, Arizton says generators with less than 1 MW power capacity are mostly adopted in modular data center deployments. They are also being adopted in developing countries by small-scale operators as they are cost-effective.
The researcher concludes that as data centers are shifting to sustainability goals of being carbon neutral, most operators are also adopting innovative technologies sush as fuel cell generators, HVO fuel generators, and eco-diesel generators to operate data center facilities with zero carbon emissions.