Data centers make a big impact in our world. The number of data centers across the globe rose to roughly 9,100 in 2019 from 7,500 in 2018. As a result, data center electricity consumption is projected to increase to roughly 140 billion kilowatt-hours in 2020 in the U.S. alone, which equates to about 150 million metric tons of carbon emissions.
Sustainability is no longer optional, it has become an obvious priority for data center operators. They are committing to low or no carbon footprint operation by optimizing electronics efficiency and procuring renewable “green” energy. But there’s another sustainability problem in almost every data center: the lead-acid batteries that back up the UPS system.
Avoid the world’s top pollution problems
The lead-acid manufacturing industry has done a good job of promoting the high rate of recycling for lead-acid batteries. But the business of recycling these batteries is not good for the environment, or the people who do the work.
Lead-acid batteries contain significant amounts of lead and other hazardous materials that create a highly pollutive and hazardous recycling process. In fact, environmental organizations have identified used lead-acid battery recycling as the world’s #1 pollution problem. This is not a good footnote in anyone’s sustainability portfolio.
Lithium-ion batteries are often considered a “cleaner” option to lead-acid batteries. Yet they contain rare earth elements that are highly polluting to source. The extraction of lithium alone has significant environmental and social impacts, from water pollution and depletion to leaching, spills and air emissions of toxic chemicals. And that’s simply for manufacturing: lithium-ion batteries do not yet have a clear, self-funded path to recyclability at end-of-life.
A truly green battery backup choice
To make the sustainable choice, data center operators should consider nickel-zinc (NiZn) batteries. NiZn batteries consist mainly of common highly available materials, are non-flammable and fail-safe with the lowest climate impact of battery chemistries popular in the data center.
NiZn batteries consist mainly of common highly available materials with the lowest climate impact of battery chemistries popular in the data center.
Moreover, both nickel and zinc can be recycled while maintaining their physical and chemical properties, making NiZn one of the most recyclable battery chemistries. In fact, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has defined a Green Technology Battery Backup System (GT-BBS) standard that utilizes NiZn battery-based backup systems as a green alternative to lead-acid battery backup systems.
Superior GHG emissions savings
The most direct way to evaluate environmental impact is by comparing a battery’s Carbon Return on Purchase (CROP) with that of other chemistries.CROP measures the greenhouse gases (GHG) avoided per kWh of customer energy storage. ZincFive’s NiZn batteries offers six times or more avoidance of GHG emissions compared to lithium-ion and four times more compared to lead-acid chemistries, according to a Climate Impact Profile by Boundless Impact Research & Analytics.
The Climate Impact Profile also compared the battery chemistries for Carbon Payback Time: the Time required for emissions savings from the product’s use to offset the GHG of its production. Comparing production and product use, the authors concluded that NiZin had, by far, the shortest Carbon Payback Time. Li-Ion and Lead-Acid batteries exhibit roughly 400% longer Carbon Payback Time.
A much higher CROP and shorter Carbon Payback Time contribute directly to higher sustainability value using NiZn battery technology. Analysis shows that data centers can realize significant GHG savings and optimize sustainability by investing in nickel-zinc batteries instead of lithium-ion and lead-acid batteries.
Click here for a copy of the Climate Impact Profile by Boundless Impact Research & Analytics.
 Pure Earth/Green Cross 11th annual 2016 report, “World’s Worst Pollution Problems” https://www.worstpolluted.org/2016-report.html, “World’s Worst Pollution Problems”, Fact Sheet – Lead-Acid Battery Recycling and Lead Pollution; https://www.worstpolluted.org/projects_reports/display/133