Water-based solutions for a sustainable data industry to be installed at the AltaSea campus

By Emily Vidovich. Emily has a background in environmental journalism and sustainability and is a member of the George Washington University Class of 2019.

Nautilus Data Technologies recently announced adding Los Angeles to its site portfolio, with the ability to accommodate a 7.5 megawatt floating data center at the AltaSea campus in the Port of Los Angeles. The high performance data center is planned to be moored at one of AltaSea’s berths.

In a press release, AltaSea president and CEO Terry Tamminen welcomed the opportunities made possible by bringing Nautilus to AltaSea’s waterfront facility. “Nautilus will be an integral part of our mission to demonstrate and commercialize marine-related technology in the most sustainable way possible,” he said. “We’re happy to have a data center that is at the forefront of blue economy innovation in our area.”

An illustration of the recently announced Nautilus floating data center at the AltaSea campus.

The U.S. data center cooling market is projected to be worth $3.5 billion by 2025. Installing a Nautilus data center, which utilizes sustainable cooling technology, at AltaSea will allow the port to showcase an innovative solution to the data industry’s climate impact.

While digital data is intangible, it is only able to power the modern age thanks to data centers—physical locations with networks of computers and other IT infrastructure where data is computed and stored. According to a report by the International Energy Agency, the electricity required by data centers accounts for 1 to 1.5 percent of global electricity usage. This number, which excludes the electricity required to power cryptocurrency mining, will only continue to grow in an increasingly digitized world.

Almost 40 percent of the electricity used by data centers is used to keep the centers cool—IT equipment doesn’t function well when exposed to high temperatures, but produces a significant amount of heat while it operates. As a result, cooling systems are required to remove the generated heat and replace it with cooler air. Faced with the realities of climate change and rising energy costs, Nautilus designed a cooling system that uses the natural properties of water to cool its data centers more efficiently, resulting in a significant decrease in electricity usage.

Nautilus’ water-based cooling system. Photo courtesy of Nautilus Data Technologies.

Nautilus’ cooling system starts by intaking cool water and filtering it. Thanks to the multi-step, chemical-free filtration process, water from natural sourcessuch as oceans and lakescan be utilized. After being filtered, the cool water absorbs heat via a heat plate exchanger and is then discharged back to the source. Because it absorbs heat generated by the data center, the water is discharged with a four degree Fahrenheit change in temperature. From intake to discharge, the water circles through the system in less than 15 seconds. 

Nautilus has received regulatory approval from multiple state and federal agencies for meeting standards for protecting endangered species, habitat, and water quality—including a 160-page analysis under the California Environmental Quality Act that found no adverse environmental impact. 

While Nautilus can utilize its proprietary cooling system at data centers located near bodies of water, its most forward-thinking innovation is its fully water-based solution—floating data centers that are ready to be deployed on any body of water. This is the type of facility planned for placement at AltaSea’s campus. Data center customers at this site will have the added benefit of access to the nearby One Wilshire Data Center, the endpoint for numerous undersea trans-Pacific cables.

As Nautilus CEO and President Rob Pfleging explained, Nautilus sees its floating data centers as a way to maximize its sustainable water cooling technology while circumventing significant challenges to data center site selection—the rising price and dwindling availability of suitable land. Pfleging also argued that, in comparison to the technology industry norm of vying for spots in expensive real estate markets, Nautilus’ decision to incorporate data centers into industrial zones is more economical.

Cooling data centers with Nautilus’ technology reduces a data center’s power consumption by 30 percent, and the water-based system can absorb heat more effectively than the methods used in traditional cooling systems. The result is a reduction of the climate impact of data centers that also makes them more resilient to climate change-induced heat waves. Nautilus’ innovative approach is a testament to the diverse industries that could benefit from a sustainable blue economy.

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