Insights

Data centers: greenwashing par excellence

Why are data centers so super-secretive? “My hypothesis is that data centers are facing more and more opposition worldwide by local communities because these communities are starting to understand that most of the positive impacts of a data center will not be seen by the local community,” Gauthier Roussilhe, an environmental footprint sp... Read More »

It is the ore above everything and everyone

To make a smartphone requires 50-60 materials and 1,000 substances: 25% silicon, 23% plastic, 20% iron, 14% aluminum, 7% copper, 6% lead, 2% zinc, 1% tin. 90 kg of stone, gravel, and tailings are mined for every smartphone. “In Brazil and Minas, it is the ore above everything and everyone,” says anthropologist Andréa Zhouri. She explai... Read More »

Waste that lasts 10,000 years in dumps designed to last 50 years

As the race for minerals frantically speeds up, driven by the ‘clean’ and ‘green’ energy revolution, the minerals become harder and harder to retrieve, and the percentage of waste to useful mineral grows and grows. “Over the past 40 years, ore grades—the concentration of the metal or mineral of value—have declined on average by half for ... Read More »

Tailings: mining’s toxic legacy

The average laptop weighs about 1.5 kg. Roughly 1 kg of that weight is aluminum, steel and other mined metals. To get that 1 kg, roughly 1,200 kg of earth needs to be blasted, dug and laced with toxic chemicals. What happens to the 1,100 kg of toxic waste? It is dumped in what are called tailing lakes. There is nothing good about tailing... Read More »

Water-mad digital devices

Making electronic devices is incredibly water intense. It takes 14,000 liters of water to make a smartphone. It takes 190,000 liters of water to make a laptop. It takes 850 times more water to make one gram of material for a smartphone than one gram of material for an average car. If you keep a smartphone for three years, it’s had to dri... Read More »

Data centers help drive the water scarcity crisis

“I’ve never really understood why big hyper-scaler data centers were installed in high water-stressed regions, like the west part of the US,” environmental researcher Gauthier Roussilhe told me. It makes terrible environmental sense, but clearly it makes good business sense. I was reminded of the business sense that data centers make a... Read More »

Why is water such a low priority for data centers?

According to Eolas magazine, a data center can use anywhere from 500,000 to 5 million liters of water per day, or between 182 million and 1.8 billion liters a year. According to CloudScene, there were about 8,500 large data centers globally in 2022. That’s between 1.5 and 15 trillion liters of water a year, or enough to fill from 600,000... Read More »

Thirsty, secretive data centers

Finding out how much water data centers use is super-super-difficult because, as with everything else, data centers are super-super-secretive. It’s like they’ve got this super-super-big dirty set of secrets they don’t want anyone to know about. How much water do US data centers use? “We don't really know,” Lawrence Berkeley National Labo... Read More »

Chip-making gulps water

The smaller things become, the more resource and energy intensive they are to make. Silicon chips are now at a scale of nanometers. A dust particle is about 1,000 times larger, so we can’t have any dust. To purify and clean silicon chips requires enormous quantities of water. Every single chip requires about 100 liters of ultra-pure wate... Read More »

Water: respect Earth’s materials

Nearly 40% of global croplands have experienced water scarcity, according to a 2022 study published in the AGU journal Earth’s Future. Such scarcity is expected to affect 80% of global croplands during this century, the study states. The UN predicts that there will be a 40% gap between supply and demand for fresh water by 2030, as it als... Read More »