Can waste heat from data centers be used for vegetable growing? Researchers at RISE data center ICE in Luleå will find out. The goal is to be able to increase local food production and to establish sustainable organic farming where the climate normally stops.

Locally grown vegetables are in short supply in many parts of Sweden. One important reason is the climate, especially in northern Sweden. The growing season for crops is simply too short to be profitable. Vegetable gardens need to add heat, which makes it more expensive to grow the vegetables.

Something that, on the other hand, grows so that it breaks, especially in northern parts of Sweden, is the data center industry. Here, the problem is the reverse; the plants generate too much heat and need to be cooled down. In a collaboration between Luleå University of Technology, The Foodprint Lab and RISE, researchers are now exploring the possibilities of using waste heat from data centers to heat greenhouses used for vegetable cultivation.

Suzanna Törnroth, a PhD student at LTU and part of the project team, has previously worked on the project Grow Gothenburg and together with her research colleague Cristina Ramos Caceres got inspiration for the project after having carried out several workshops and interviews with small-scale growers.

– From an environmental perspective, it is very important to find ways to encourage local growers to produce their own food, says Suzanna Törnroth.
Mattias Vesterlund, researcher at RISE says that the purpose of the project is to find technical, economic and social synergies between greenhouses and data centers, which in turn can contribute to increased local production of vegetables from small-scale food producers.

– Our vision is to in the long run benefit and provide the conditions for a competitive and sustainable agriculture in the Nordic region. We will focus on increasing the energy content of waste heat by means of better, liquid-based cooling systems and optimization of the transport of heat between data center and greenhouse, ”says Mattias Vesterlund.

Tor Björn Minde, lab manager for ICE in Luleå, welcomes the initiative and sees it as an exciting addition to the activities at the data center:

– We usually say that we work with everything between earth and clouds in our facility, and we have a focus on energy efficiency and cooling of data centers. It will be exciting to see if we can find methods to use the surplus heat from our data centers to strengthen operations that at a first glance are very far from what we normally associate with data centers, concludes Tor Björn Minde.

The project will continue until 2020, and is funded by Vinnova. The research team includes researchers from RISE, Luleå University of Technology and The Foodprint Lab.