Tile flooring

A water-cooled data center where an abandoned stationery used to be

[CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article was based on documents indicating to this reporter that the data center in question would be constructed in one of the standing buildings belonging to the abandoned paper mill, after extensive and hazardous cleanup and reconstruction. As it turns out, the data center will be constructed in an entirely new facility, built on ground that previously housed a paper mill machines building that had already been razed. The old “Building 11” — the one still standing — may yet become occupied by another tenant, following its own cleanup operations. The entire site is currently being cleaned up and made ready for commercial use. My thanks to Nautilus Data Technologies for setting me straight on this fact, and for helping me to correct my error.]

It was both one of Maine’s great cultural landmarks and one of its festering wounds: 1,400 acres of land, abandoned since 2008, which had been the site of a major employer for the state: engineering and research of the Great Northern Paper Company. office in Millinocket. Its main building is still standing – vacant, forgotten, leaking, rusting, but still housing nearly 48,000 square feet of space. It produced, among other things unfortunately less useful nowadays, newsprint.

Earlier this month, fulfill the dream of the 4,800 residents of Millinocket, based in Pleasanton, Calif. Nautilus Data Technologies signed a 99-year lease to operate a data center on 13 acres of the old paper mill site. At the heart of Nautilus’ plans will be its intention to deploy a full-cycle water cooling system at the new facility – a system that has pledged not to draw a single ounce of the region’s drinking water supply. .

“For the city, they will now see a piece of virgin land rising – a brownfield that has been turned into virgin land,” Nautilus CEO James L. Connaughton promised in an interview with Data Center Knowledge. “They will see a modern, high-tech and well-structured industrial infrastructure rise there. “

“Lots of debris”

Nautilus quickly gained a reputation in the Northeastern United States for its commitment to respecting the environment. On Tuesday, the company found itself making a new promise to a local reporter. Bangor Daily News‘Lia Russell reported on Tuesday that a Nautilus spokesperson had told him that preparing the site for construction would include “a lot of debris removal”.

Much of this debris is due to old disused buildings that have already been razed, including the main area that Nautilus intends to occupy for its new facility. Among the other structures that will remain standing, eventually to be occupied by another tenant – Nautilus’ neighbor, in fact – is the Old Mill Research Building.

When this building was inspected in March and April 2017 by Eastern Mold Remediation, Inc., its walls and ceilings fell victim to what inspectors described as “moderate to severe microbial growth.”

“Serious water stains are visible on acoustic ceiling tiles, wall-to-wall carpets, tiled floors and exposed cement slabs,” reads the inspection team’s report for the third floor of the research building of the old factory. “Standing water is visible on sections of carpet, tile and cement slabs up to 1” deep in some areas and is frozen in many areas.

The ceiling tiles were left where they were when the building was abandoned, and many fell. All floor tiles should be disposed of safely. There is rust on most visible metal parts, including the radiator covers and light fixtures.

In applying for a federal clean-up grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency, the site owners, among other things, conducted a thorough assessment of the research building. Asbestos was found, posing perhaps the greatest danger to humans there. Old electrical appliances were left to decay, exposing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which the United States officially banned for use in manufacturing in 1978. PCBs have also been found in caulks and products. decaying sealant. What about painting? You probably guessed it by now, much of it was lead based.

It was a miracle that healthy people worked at the paper mill when it was clean.

Gravity falls

Nautilus holds the patent for the configuration of a thermal containment system that uses a closed loop cooling unit, recirculating the liquid which extracts heat from the air. This liquid does not have to be clean water. In fact, for its unique floating data center in Stockton, Calif. (Which would be revolutionary if it actually resided on the ground), Nautilus uses regular seawater for the closed-loop unit.

As this aerial map reveals, the plant site still retains two large process water intakes, as well as its own wastewater treatment plant and hydroelectric substation. Now owned and operated by nearby Brookfield Power, the substation had once been used to power the paper mill. Water from Ferguson Lake was channeled through an underground penstock, letting gravity drag it downward, providing all the force needed to generate hydroelectric power for the plant.

Today, the water flowing through the power station’s turbines produces up to 75 MW of electricity, Nautilus’s Connaughton told us. As the new facility is currently planned, it will occupy three zones in the area of ​​the old plant. The electrical systems will be housed at the highest point, the most northerly, closest to the old research building. The halls of the data center will occupy the level ground between the electrical substation and the standing stationery buildings. The mechanical systems will occupy the lowest, southernmost point.

This setup will be designed, Connaughton explained, “to feed the data center by gravity.”

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“We’re only going to need pumps for the recirculation,” he continued, “so basically we won’t need pumps to cool the data center. The pumps will have a water management feature, but they will not have heavy loads associated with it. This PUE will therefore be less than 1.1 – naturally cooled and naturally fluid. “

If the name “James Connaughton” sounds familiar to you, you may be a Washington climate policy veteran. Throughout George W. Bush’s administration, he served as Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. There he helped develop bipartite legislation such as the Brownfields Redevelopment Improvement Act, 2002, with the aim of creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and generating billions in income through the cleanup and reconstruction of decaying, abandoned brownfields, often contaminated by the environment.

Millinocket is perhaps one of the most dangerous brownfield data center construction sites in the country – a site that Nautilus’ Connaughton promises to convert into an entirely new facility, with some investment from his own. business. But there’s a good argument that no other industry would be as capable of meeting the challenge, at this point in history, with this great promise.

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