300 Million-Year-Old Limestone Houses Ultra Efficient Data Center 22 Stories Underground

data center cave photo

Photos via Computerworld

In western Pennsylvania, a data center is using the benefits of a very cool location. It's Iron Mountain's man-made caverns in an old limestone mine, and in room 48, an experiment in data center efficiency design and the use of geothermal environmental conditions for extra efficiency is taking place. In other words, researchers are trying to find out if putting data centers deep underground will be an ideal place for them.
Computerworld reports that the data center doesn't rely on a raised floor like most data centers at surface level. Instead, they use the cool from the limestone walls - which can absorb 1.5 BTUs per square foot - and vents attached to ceiling ducts. The server racks trap electrical heat and force it up through ceiling tiles, where the limestone absorbs the heat naturally.

The limestone was formed 400 million years ago when the area was under an ocean, and during a 100 million year period as billions of tiny crustaceans died and fell to the ocean floor, they created layer upon layer of limestone. Now, we can use the properties of that limestone, and the special characteristics of this particular old mine, to make a data center run with ultra efficiency.

data center cave photo

The HVAC system also uses the ancient environmental features of the caves, pulling water from a several hundred-acre underground lake for cooling. The lake might eventually be used to cool the data center racks themselves.

Design and location have come together to create a unique and incredibly efficient environment for a data server. Computerworld states,"By setting the room's return air temperature to 75 degrees, Iron Mountain cut energy consumption for cooling by between 10% and 15% compared with the company's traditional data centers. They operate between 70 and 72 degrees. The natural cooling also allowed Iron Mountain to boost power in the room to 200 watts per square foot, more than 50% above the 125 watts per square foot used in the other data centers located in the mine. Room 48 also cost about 30% less to build than they did because the design favored efficiency and cost reduction over specialty equipment."

And as Cleantechnica points out, this several-million-year-old cave just might be the oldest location to qualify for LEED certification.

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