Inside an AWS datacenter

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is transitioning from diesel to hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) to fuel backup generators in European datacentres, starting with facilities in Ireland and Sweden. The move aims to reduce carbon footprint and may result in a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to diesel. HVO is a renewable biofuel made from processing vegetable and waste cooking oils, requiring no generator modifications and remaining stable in cold temperatures. AWS plans to expand HVO usage across all European datacentre sites as part of their net-zero commitment by 2040. Other companies, like Google and Microsoft, are exploring alternative backup power solutions as diesel stocks remain low amid recent bans and price caps.

HVO: The Renewable Diesel Alternative

HVO, or hydrotreated vegetable oil, is a renewable, biodegradable, and non-toxic fuel derived from waste cooking oil, vegetable, plant, and residue oils[2]. It can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 90% over its lifecycle when compared to fossil diesel[2]. As a biofuel, HVO is compatible with existing diesel engines without any modifications required and maintains its stability even in cold temperatures[1].

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According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), global biofuel demand is predicted to increase by 41 billion litres (28%) from 2021 to 2026, with government policies as the primary driver[3]. Renewable diesel demand, including HVO, is expected to nearly triple during this period, primarily due to policies in the United States and Europe[3].

Procuring Sustainable HVO

Ensuring a sustainable and traceable supply chain for HVO is crucial for its positive environmental impact. AWS is working with organisations like Certa Ireland to procure HVO from renewable sources and traceable raw materials[2]. Andrew Graham, Managing Director of Certa Ireland, expressed excitement at collaborating with AWS to drive their renewable energy transition through HVO supply, noting that their biofuel provides up to a 90% reduction in carbon emissions without any generator retrofitting required[2].

Industry Adoption of Renewable Backup Power

AWS is not alone in seeking alternative backup power solutions for datacentres. In 2022, Google unveiled a pilot of an emergency backup battery system at a datacentre in Belgium[1]. Netherlands-based datacentre company NorthC announced plans to replace its backup generators with a 500KW hydrogen fuel cell module[1]. Microsoft has also been investigating fuel cells, successfully testing a 3MW capacity unit and planning to install a similar unit at a research datacentre to evaluate its feasibility for replacing diesel backup generators[1].

As global diesel stocks remain low due to an EU ban and a US price cap on Russian diesel[1], the transition to renewable backup power solutions like HVO is not only environmentally responsible but also a timely and strategic decision for datacentre operators.


[1]The Register