Construction site situation embedded with the recycling sign. An orange excavator in the background

Use of sustainable building materials and recycling in data center construction

News | 10.07.2024

The use of sustainable building materials and recycling in the construction of data centers is another forward-looking step towards reducing the environmental impact of these highly energy-intensive facilities. According to a United Nations report, the construction industry is responsible for 38% of global CO2 emissions. According to the Federal Environment Agency, the construction industry processes more than 70% of all raw materials mined in Germany. Furthermore, concrete is responsible for 8% of global greenhouse gases.

For this reason, it is essential to develop new, sustainable concepts that minimize the use of fossil raw materials and act in an ecologically sound manner. But what are sustainable building materials, how does the recycling of building materials work and what certifications apply to construction?

What are sustainable building materials?

CO2-reduced concrete:

Industrial by-products such as coal fly ash, silica fume and blast furnace slag can be reused in concrete. Instead of using conventional concrete, recycled concrete made from demolition materials can also be a sustainable alternative. The recycled material is crushed and processed into a new concrete. This reduces the need for newly mined resources and minimizes CO2 emissions in the production of cement.

Wood as a renewable raw material:

The use of wood from sustainable forestry for the construction of data centers is an environmentally friendly option. Wood is renewable and has a lower carbon footprint compared to concrete or steel and allows for a shorter construction time as it does not need to dry out, unlike reinforced concrete, and allows for modular construction.

Green insulation materials:

The use of environmentally friendly insulation materials and renewable raw materials such as hemp, sheep's wool or recycled glass minimizes the CO2 footprint and contributes to the energy efficiency of the building.

Other sustainable building materials include clay bricks, natural stone, thatch, jute, cellulose coconut fiber, reed or Napier grass, sheep's wool and straw.

How do you recycle building materials?

When demolishing existing buildings, the building materials used should be recycled wherever possible and reused in new buildings. This reduces the need for new raw materials and ensures that no new CO2 emissions are generated.

Facilities for sorting and separating waste materials such as steel from concrete help to recover valuable resources.

Building passport for listing building materials:

The use of simulations and BIM (Building Information Modeling) help with recycling: simulations in the sense of the Circular Economy Act can calculate the general material consumption and recycling options. By comparing concrete and steel consumption, for example, the most sustainable use of materials can be determined.

Maximum energy efficiency:

The choice of sustainable building materials should go hand in hand with an energy-efficient building design. This includes the optimal placement of windows, thermal insulation and the use of renewable energies such as wind or solar energy. Using a digital twin, CFD calculations (computational fluid dynamics or numerical flow simulation) can be carried out to optimize thermal and temperature conditions. This allows enclosures and thus the temperatures in the various areas of the data center to be optimized. This saves energy.

Economical water use and smart water management:

The implementation of water-saving measures and efficient water management are also important; for example, rainwater is reused for cooling or watering green areas.

Certifications and standards for greater sustainability:

To ensure that sustainable practices are adhered to in the construction and subsequent operation of data centers, certifications such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) or BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) can be considered. According to the German Green Building Association (GGBA), 516 LEED certificates were awarded in Germany in 2022, putting Germany in 10th place worldwide.3

Extending the life cycle of a building:

A Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) helps to assess the environmental impact of a data center from planning through construction to operation. This makes it possible to identify areas in which sustainability improvements can be made.

The conventional product life cycle begins with the procurement of raw materials, which are further processed and manufactured into the end product, in the case of the Data Center Group a data center. The product is then used with the help of the energy required. The end of the cycle is marked by the dismantling of the building and the technology as well as reuse in the so-called material cycle.

DC IT Rooms and Micro Data Centers from the Data Center Group can be dismantled and reintegrated into another building infrastructure so that the product life cycle does not end there, but begins anew. By working closely with industrial customers and networking through Industry 5.0, we are able to understand their own IT strategy approach and jointly extend the life cycle of our products, for example by relocating a data center from one industrial site to another.

A prime example of this is the ECB - S room-in-room certified data center, the DC IT Room Granite. This was no longer needed in an old location. Due to its
modular design and high-quality building materials, the data center can be rebuilt at another location. WOLFF & MÜLLER Holding GmbH & Co. KG, a company from the construction industry and expert in the fields of project development, planning and construction, operation and services and sustainable building and raw materials from Stuttgart, is now benefiting from a secure and highly available IT infrastructure and, in line with the Data Center Group, is doing valuable work in terms of sustainability and life cycle extension.

An interim outdoor data center, which served as an interim solution in the Heidelberg Innovation Park (hip), was also able to serve as an IT infrastructure for a company in the pharmaceutical industry elsewhere.

These examples show that a life cycle does not end at one location. On the contrary, Data Center Group products can be used for a long time at different locations.

Responsible waste disposal:

The recycling of electronics generated in the data center is also of great importance. In electronics recycling, valuable metals are recovered and hazardous substances are disposed of properly.

The use of sustainable building materials and recycling practices in the construction of data centers can help minimize the environmental impact of these facilities while improving their efficiency and cost-effectiveness. It is important that these principles are incorporated into the planning and design of data centers from the outset.

Our approach to sustainable solutions:

The Data Center Group makes every effort to use sustainable building materials in the construction of data centre solutions as part of sustainable digitalization. For example, green roofs and facades have long been a standard feature of every colocation data center we plan and build. We would be happy to implement your next data center project with sustainable and recyclable building materials. Right at the beginning of the Data Center Group's value chain - from consulting to planning and implementation with the right products and subsequent service and operation of data centers - the topics carried out are thought through in advance and implemented for the benefit of the community, a sustainable digitalization.

Further information on these topics can be found on our sustainability page.

Sources: 

1 UN environment programme; Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction – 2020 Global Status report for Buildings and Construction (2020)
2 Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz, nukleare Sicherheit und Verbraucherschutz – Nachhaltigkeit in der Baubranche: Eine Großbaustelle? (2022) 
3 GGBA (2022): www.german-gba.org/leed-die-aktuellen-zahlen/

Title picture: Generated by artificial intelligence (Adobe Firefly)

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