Last weekend in Millinocket, northern Maine, I was honored to participate in the opening ceremony for a data center alongside our partner Nautilus Data Technology. Around 300 people turned up to the event to learn more about a project that promises to revive a 1,400 acre site that was once the beating industrial heart of the small town. For more than a century, the paper mill was Millinocket’s primary source of employment and prosperity, but has been lying dormant since 2008 when the business closed. The unique characteristic of the site – with existing hydro power, water utilities, and proximity to local and international fiber connections is the perfect set-up for our energy-efficient data center.

Data centers and the fiber that connects them to customers are a key asset in the race to close the digital divide, which COVID has intensified. The down side however is that data centers are large consumers of electricity and drinking water – they currently utilize 3% of the world’s power, forecast to increase to 7% over the next decade, and consume an average of eight million gallons of drinking water per year per megawatt to cool the computers.

I like many other Bechtel employees live in California, a state that is constantly battling drought conditions. The 800 data centers in California consume more than 120 billion gallons of potable water per year – that’s the equivalent of the water consumption for 1 million homes, or 1 in 10 homes’ state-wide. Replicate that around the world and you can see the immense pressure on our precious resources and the environment.

And this is where we are excited to be making a difference.

In Millinocket, our data center will consume zero drinking water, as the Nautilus TRUE™ technology uses naturally cold water from natural sources which it returns to after use. The facility will run on 100% renewable hydropower and our design will also take advantage of the natural elevation difference between the water inlet and the facility to reduce the need for pumping, which represents the major non-IT related energy use in the design. It will end up being the greenest in the world. The innovative technology also dispenses with the need for Green House Gases, which many data centers currently use as refrigerants in the water cooling process.

It was really inspiring to be at the opening of what promises to be a cornerstone of the Millinocket community that will help breathe life back into what was once a very vibrant community. We’re already planning to use the discharged water from the data center to support a proposed fish farm and herb farm that will also be built on the site, and look forward to continuing to engaging with the local people to make this a success.

Listen to this podcast to learn more about our partnership with Nautilus to build more sustainable data centers around the world.

Learn more about our partnership with Nautilus.