Microsoft considering hemp, sustainable materials to build carbon-storing data centers

New research sponsored by software giant Microsoft includes a promise from the company that it would help develop sustainable materials, including hemp, that store carbon to help construct data centers and other buildings.

The research, produced by the Carbon Leadership Forum at the University of Washington, gathers information from existing literature about early-stage, sustainable materials that are in development.

It showed that buildings could replace concrete with carbon-storing natural materials including mushrooms, algae, hemp, thatch and plain earth.

“These materials warrant realistic enthusiasm and are worthy of investment to aid and accelerate their prototyping, scaling, manufacturing, and marketable use in the building industry supply chain,” the report said.

Both Microsoft and Amazon invested in CarbonCure, a company that pumps CO2 into the concrete as it sets, but the process only compensates for 5% of the emissions created from a batch of concrete and can only be used in small portions of building projects, according to Data Center Dynamics, a London-based data industry trade publication.

Conversely, using sustainable materials aligns with Microsoft’s pledge to become a carbon-negative corporation by 2030 and remove all carbon emitted by the company by 2050, the paper said. This includes championing low-carbon public policy, supporting education and promoting carbon-storing material

“Along with investing in new carbon-storing technologies, Microsoft’s ambition is to accelerate the process globally by developing nascent technologies for suppliers worldwide.”

The research suggests prototypes and proof-of-concept projects can be developed in 2022, though new materials will need to pass compliance and safety tests before widespread use.

However, researchers advocate for the use of these sustainable materials in flagship projects to gain interest and prove their low-carbon and carbon-storing feasibility, while showing costs and code compliance comparable to conventional materials.

Using 3D printing could aid in the production of building components and such ideas and materials could be tested in Microsoft Edge data centers, the research suggests, which are smaller centers constructed quickly from manufactured components.