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Verne Global in Iceland Scores High

Iceland’s green data centers are receiving growing interest. They run 100% on renewable energy and offer the lowest carbon footprint in the industry.

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It does indeed matter if a data center is green or not. According to a report by UBM Tech and InformationWeek, 22 percent of 100 executives said they regularly track energy usage in their data centers, and close to 60 percent of IT decision makers say the state of their data center is fair, serious or urgent, and at the brink of running out of capacity in 2014. For many of those executives and IT people, Iceland may be the perfect location for their data.

Small and large companies alike are looking for greener options. Adobe, eBay, Facebook, Hewlett-Packard, Salesforce and Symantec have joined the Future of Internet Power initiative to showcase low-carbon power. IBM is heavily into promoting green data center design; the European Union Commission honored 27 of them in January 2012. EBay also has raised the bar by with its Digital Service Efficiency (DSE) methodology, which links how many “buy” or “sell” business transactions are completed per kilowatt-hour.

Recently, the GreenBizGroup listed 12 green data centers and co-location facilities that stand out for innovative cooling, green energy or head-turning designs. One of them is the data centre of Verne Global in Iceland. According to GreenBiz, the geothermal and hydroelectric-powered campus of Verne Global in Southwest Iceland calls itself the first zero-carbon data center. Among its customers are automaker BMW Group and the Climate Action organization.

Krafla_geothermal_power_station_winter_LandsvirkjunBMW is using the campus of Verne Global for crash simulations, aerodynamic calculations and other computer-aided design (CAD) purposes. This requires plenty of electricity, both for the transactions and to keep the infrastructure cool. By moving ten of its  high-performance computing clusters (HPC) to Iceland from Germany, BMW hopes to reduce annual carbon emissions by 3,570 metric tons.

What is no less interesting for BMW and other companies considering where to host their data, Iceland not only offers green electricity and natural cooling, but also electricity prices that are lower than anywhere else in Europe. Therefore, it is quite obvious that Iceland has excellent possibilities for becoming a leading data centre hub.

Green Methanol Produced in Iceland

In Iceland renewable geothermal energy is utilized to produce Green Renewable Methanol; a synthetic liquid fuel which can be used as a fuel blend for normal gasoline combustion engines. The company behind this innovation is Carbon Recycling International (CRI).

Methanol-CRI-process-explainedMethanol is one type of alcohol fuel that can be used as alternative fuel in gasoline combustion engines, either directly or in combination with gasoline. If it is used as low blend in gasoline, very little or even no modifications of the engine are needed.

Methanol is produced from hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Normally the feedstock is petroleum based, such as natural gas or coal. However, it is possible to obtain the hydrogen portion of the synthesis gas via electrolysis, as well as the carbon monoxide by collecting it from a a biomass, factory emissions or a geothermal borehole.

The Green Renewable Methanol produced by CRI is made from water and carbon dioxide from a geothermal power plant. The electricity used in the process comes from the same geothermal power plant (the Svartsengi Geothermal Plant in Southwest Iceland). One might wonder why power from geothermal power plants in Iceland is categorized as renewable energy, since they emit carbon dioxide. The fact is that the amount is tiny compared to fossil fuel tendencies – yet enough for CRI to utilize it for methanol production. And CRI refers to its product as Green Renewable Methanol because it captures carbon dioxide that would otherwise escape to the atmosphere.

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The methanol from CRI’s plant is blended with regular gasoline to meet the fuel standards of the European Union (EU). According to the European regulations, the maximum volume of methanol in the gasoline can be three percent). In the world about 20 million tons (25 billion liters) of methanol are consumed as fuel annually. However, only a fraction of it is from renewable sources.

It is expected that the market for renewable automobile fuels in Europe will more than double before 2020. Large share of that will be in the form biofuels from food sources. The market for renewable transport fuels which are of non-biological origin or from waste is expected to show the fastest growth in coming years. CRI may be in a unique position having brought a renewable fuel to the market from non-biological sources (as opposed to oil seeds, corn or sugar cane). The Green Renewable Methanol proves that carbon dioxide can provide alternative renewable fuel and it is not necessary to use scarce agricultural resources or destroy forests and wetlands to grow fuel crops. And, unlike hydrogen, methanol can be transported and distributed via existing gasoline infrastructure.

argos-energiesEarlier this year (2013), CRI announced that the first shipment of renewable transport fuel from its production plant in Iceland had been shipped to Dutch oil company Argos in Rotterdam, signaling the entrance of transport fuel from geothermal sources to the European market. Argos is the largest independent player in the downstream oil market in Western Europe and distributes over 17.5 billion liters of fuels each year. The company has a leading position in the Netherlands and also operates a distribution network in Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland. Argos has been ambitious in providing renewable fuel and it will be interesting to see how the Green Renewable Methanol from Iceland will fit into their fuel mix.

Experiencing Earth’s Underground Steam

Power plants are becoming a popular attraction for foreign visitors in Iceland. According to Samorka, which is a federation of the Icelandic electricity industry, district heatings, waterworks and sewage utilities in Iceland, tens of thousands of tourists visit the largest power plants every summer. This both applies to hydro- and geothermal power plants.

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The power plants are therefore among the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland. Some of the plants are open all year around.

The most popular power plant to visit is Hellisheiðarvirkjun Geothermal Power Plant. Around 50,000 guests are forecast to visit the Geothermal Energy Exhibition at Hellisheiðarvirjun this year. Around 95 percent of guests are foreign, the largest number from the United Kingdom. The exhibition includes multimedia presentations about the harnessing of geothermal energy in Iceland. You can read more about Iceland’s geothermal diversity here.

The GEOthermal Research Group

The cooperative project Deep Roots of Geothermal Systems (DRG) aims at understanding the relationship of water and magma in the roots of volcanoes and how heat is transferred into geothermal systems to maintain their energy. Furthermore, the project focuses on the design of wells and well heads for high temperatures, as well as methods for utilizing superheated steam from greater depths.

PrintThe project is managed within a cluster cooperation called GEORG. This Icelandic entity is financially supported by the National Energy Authority (Orkustofnun), Icelandic power companies Landsvirkjun, Orkuveita Reykjavíkur (Reykjavik Energy), and HS Orka, and the Iceland Deep Drilling Project (IDDP). The IDDP has several partners from Europe and USA, making both IDDP and GEPRG leading international players in geothermal research.

By enhancing research and development of geothermal resources in a sustainable way, geothermal energy will constitute an important part of reducing the world dependence on carbon-based energy sources.  Hence, the foundation of GEORG can be vital. It is based on the principles of creating a critical mass of joint resources and efforts to break through existing scientific and technical barriers to innovation in the field. This may lead to increasing the number of qualified experts in geothermal research, engineering, design and technical exploitation of the resource.

OR-Hellisheidi-Power-Plant-SteamThe research within GEORG is performed by three groups made up of representatives from universities, research institutes, engineering companies and energy companies. The latest technology is be applied in surveying, resistance measurements and seismic measurements, petrology and geochemistry. In addition, new simulation models will be developed. These models will be used to simulate heat transfer and operation of geothermal boreholes for high temperature steam. Training young scientists to work in this field will be an area of heavy focus for this project.

The project will be ongoing over the next three years and the partners have pledged direct financial support amounting close to 100 million ISK. In addition, they will provide support through other similar projects the partners are working on. More information about geothermal energy in Iceland can be found here.

Landsvirkjun Promotes University Research and Education

The Icelandic power company LandsvirkjunReykjavík University (RU), and the University of Iceland have joined forces to support and encourage the development of expertise within the field of renewable energy. The cooperation will strive to create a source of shared value for Landsvirkjun, the universities and Icelandic society by supporting those disciplines where more education and research are vital.

Landsvirkjun-university-cooperation-2013In total, Landsvirkjun has pledged 80 million ISK to the universities over a five year period, to promote education and research in geochemistry, electric power engineering and other academic disciplines within the universities. The cooperation agreement with the University of Iceland has the main objective of promoting and supporting teaching and research in the disciplines of geochemistry, geology, mechanical and industrial engineering. An emphasis will be placed on developing expertise in the field of renewable energy sources. Landsvirkjun and Reykjavík University will also cooperate in promoting research and university education in the field of renewable energy.

Hordur-Arnarson-Landsvirkjun-CEO-presentingWhen signing the Agreement Mr. Hörður Arnarson, CEO of Landsvirkjun, stated that in building a dynamic cooperation between Landsvirkjun and the universities will create shared value for the economy and for society, by sharing expertise and supporting innovation and development in renewable energy sources. The University of Iceland has a long established history in building upon its expertise in these fields and the contract is an extension of decades of cooperation between the university and Landsvirkjun in the disciplines of engineering and the natural sciences. In recent years the Reykjavik University has also been actively developing dynamic courses and expertise in technical subjects, including the utilisation and distribution of renewable energy sources. The financial support from Landsvirkjun will substantially strengthen education, research and the development of projects related to renewable energy within the universities, and increase opportunities for expertise and creativity.