Italy’s first ecological data center is located in a cave in Trentino

The San Romedio mine in Trentino mined dolomite, one of the basic ingredients of the old economy. It is used for cement, concrete, as a raw material for the steel industry and for the production of natural hydraulic lime. It therefore sounds almost like a handover that in the spaces freed up by the dolomite mining will be created the first ecological data center in Italy, that of Trentino Data Mine, a project that actually creates two transitions in one fell swoop, the digital and the digital ecological.

This public-private joint venture in the belly of the mountain is coordinated by the University of Trento and also financed by PNRR funds. A total of 50 million euros is available to address one of the blind spots of the new economy: the fact that digitalization is also a carbon bomb, the emissions required to promote new technologies are those of large industrial sectors, which are much more exposed are, such as steel or concrete. If it were a nation, the digital economy would be the fourth largest carbon emitter in the world, just behind India. The sector has already doubled aviation’s impact on global warming, today we are between 4 and 7 percent, depending on the metric. This number includes everything from hardware to cryptocurrency production, but a fundamental part of the problem is the one that Trentino Data Mine is trying to solve: data centers.

The servers that store our data are among the most difficult infrastructures to make sustainable. Giovanna Sissa, professor at the University of Genoa and expert on the interfaces between digital and sustainability, explains: “The reason is the curse of continuity at all costs.” The servers can never fail for any reason because we always have email, social Need content and photos. This forces manufacturers to make systems redundant, infrastructures to be oversized to anticipate traffic peaks and to fulfill three categorical commandments: give us access to everything, at any time and immediately.” “To be everything, everywhere and always,” to paraphrase Hollywood To quote film about the metaverse, data centers become gigantic machines starving for space, energy and water.

The first goal when designing a data center in a mine is energy conservation. The digital economy alone consumes 1 percent of the world’s electricity, but will double this share within two years. In Italy, the technical infrastructure consumes as much electricity as the entire textile sector and twice as much as the pharmaceutical sector, according to the Polytechnic University of Milan.

Everyone looks to the parable of Ireland as an example: becoming a landing pad for Facebook and Google brought economic growth, but also an explosion in energy consumption: today servers must consume a fifth of the nation’s total electricity to function. For this reason, more and more data centers around the world are being built where natural cooling sources are available, as almost half of consumption (43 percent) is used to prevent the infrastructure from heating up too much. Precisely according to this logic, the Trentino Data Mine will be built in the old dolomite mine at a fixed temperature of 12 degrees, surrounded by hundreds of meters of living rock, in spaces that already serve as natural refrigerators for storing apples. The energy consumed will come from renewable sources, which are abundant in Trentino thanks to the hydroelectric power plants.

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