Flush a toilet and cool Google’s data center

Google has turned to chilly outside air and even seawater for greener ways to cool its data centers. But the search engine giant says that it has now also tapped into recycled waste water to cool a data center in Douglas County, Georgia.

It’s the first time Google has used recycled waste water for a data center in the U.S. and the system was financed by Google and owned by the local water authority. In theory a Douglas County resident could flush a toilet and contribute to cooling the Google data center.

At the Georgia data center, Google built an evaporative cooling system, which uses both outside air and chilled sprayed water to cool servers. Google says in a blog post that this evaporative cooling process commonly uses “hundreds of thousands of gallons of water a day.”

To address that large water need, Google said it realized it didn’t need to use water that was clean enough to drink for the evaporative cooling process, and decided to go looking for how to tap into recycled, waste water. That’s where the Douglas County Water and Sewer Authority (WSA), and its water treatment plants, came in.

Working with the WSA, Google built a plant that sipheons off up to 30 percent of the waste water from one of the WSA’s plants, and Google uses that water for the data center cooling system. That water isn’t clean enough to drink, but it’s fine for cooling, and its partially cleaned by the time it reaches the data center. The WSA, in turn, saves money and energy by reducing the amount of water it has to fully clean.

Whatever water hasn’t evaporated through the data center cooling process, Google sends to another cleaning plant that it built close by to the data center; once that water is fully cleaned, it’s pumped back in the local Chattahoochee River. Hey, Google’s design might not work in all locations, but if there’s a water treatment plant and an amenable utility nearby, why not?

It’s always a positive to see technology leaders, successful firms in the new economy, adopting conservation programs that Congress hasn’t even thought of implementing in policy. Kudos to Google and Douglas County.

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