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Choosing sustainability: Plastic pipes as energy efficient and innovative solution for data center infrastructure

The SDIA now has more than 65 members and partners working across the entire digital economy, from energy and data centers to software and telecommunications. This article is the first of a new series of knowledge pieces in a series titled Choosing Sustainability. It highlights technology developed by Alliance members, in this case, GF Piping Systems – a company that ranked 9th among the top 100 most sustainably managed companies in the world by The Wall Street Journal. This article introduces their solutions and exceptional work for sustainability and innovation in the industry.


While the consumption of single-use plastics has garnered a bad reputation in society, and can rightly be labelled as an environmental hazard, use of long-life plastics for engineered piping systems in data centers can indeed offer a sustainable solution and off-set many costs.   

As moving to sustainable digital infrastructure is now gaining in importance, the number of the stakeholders taking part in this process is also rising, and new sustainable options are being developed with each passing minute. 

GF Piping Systems’ technology is one of the great examples of the sustainable solutions already available on the market. According to Mark Bulmer, Head of Data Centers Global Market Development at GF Piping Systems, there are still some barriers for the business innovation in the industry. 

“The major challenge for us is simply the lack of market recognition of the importance of piping. A lot of engineers focus on equipment and have a tendency to neglect the piping systems. However, efficient reliable piping is essential also in terms of reaching sustainability goals. Rising awareness of piping is an ongoing challenge for us.”
– Mark Bulmer, Head of Data Centers Global Market Development at GF Piping Systems

Why do we need plastic pipes in data centers? 

There is an increasing need for greener and more sustainable solutions and products across all segments of the digital industry. Data centers are no exception, as they are a core and mission critical part of future and present digital infrastructure. 

Data centers are high consumers of power, and the cooling requirements for the heat generated by the servers is about 40% of the data center’s entire power consumption. Hence, optimizing the efficiency of the cooling plant plays an important role in improving the efficiency of all data centers.

For one, there is the matter of reduced energy consumption. When using a non-corroding plastic pipe, with smooth internal bore and low thermal conductivity, the operator automatically saves operational costs and maintenance. Then, there is the environmental factor. Plastic systems have a carbon dioxide balance that is significantly lower than that of metal systems, and they are also fully recyclable. 

There are further advantages that plastic has over metal. One is weight. Plastic weighs less than metal – for instance, plastic can weigh one-sixth of the same part made of steel or half the weight of aluminum. This difference in weight is relevant when considering transporting the goods to the site and when placing piping systems on roofs or ceilings of data centers, where additional weight plays an important role for safety and use of available space. Additionally, when it comes to the price of materials, it is more cost-efficient than metal.

The corrosion of traditional metallic piping systems in a cooling plant can have a significant negative effect on facility life-span and maintenance as well, and there on the total carbon footprint. Plastics do not corrode, which is one more significant advantage to think of when applying plastic solutions to data center infrastructure. 

Aside from being reliable and energy efficient, the piping solutions also need to be prepped and installed fast, which is another advantage that plastic material has over metals for data centers. Jointing of plastics can be done using fully automated machinery, allowing digital protocols and use of non-disruptive testing for 100% quality control.  

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GF plastic piping systems are commonly used in many other markets, for example, water utility distribution piping and semiconductor manufacturing. Sustainability is a constant key attribute in terms of efficient operational properties as well as efficient water usage for all markets GF Piping Systems is present in. The importance of sustainable water use cannot be underestimated either, especially with the global population expected to reach over 8 billion in 2023, and 9.8 billion by 2050. Given the rise in and subsequent progress that liquid cooling technologies have made recently, GF plastic piping solutions can become a key component of that important solution.


Plastics as a sustainable resource

As data centers are investing massively in and tend to consume large amounts of resources, plastic solutions should be seen as a vital part of the sustainability equation. Unlike other resources, there are various types of plastics available to meet specific applications and purposes. For instance, high-quality plastics like GF Piping Systems offers can be an essential component used to make products for recycling exhaust heat, such as evaporative coolers, water-cooled condensers, cooling towers, and heat pumps and chillers, more sustainable. Equipment and piping in mission-critical cooling plants must also be as reliable and energy efficient as possible, as well as fast to install. By combining all of these factors into their products, GF Piping Systems’ solutions improve their customers’ sustainability as it relates to efficient energy use and the resulting CO2 footprint. 

“SDIA has an excellent network of all the stakeholders involved around the digital sector, and we felt that joining the Alliance will support our mission of raising awareness of key decision-makers on how plastic piping systems can increase efficiency of cooling plant operation in data centers."
Mark Bulmer, Head of Data Centers Global Market Development at GF Piping Systems

SDIA_ChoosingSustainability_joint_article_with_GFPipingSystems - 4A piece of SDIA’s Roadmap puzzle

In a nutshell, GF Piping Systems’ plastic pipes solutions reduce costs while providing longevity, efficiency, and sustainability.

As an SDIA member, GF Piping Systems’ sustainable solutions are a piece of the organization’s puzzle known as the Roadmap to Sustainable Digital Infrastructure by 2030. Such solutions also help to systematically embed sustainability across different sectors, enabling various actors to do their part in this ever-growing process.

GF Piping Systems is part of the SDIA Steering Group of Excess Heat Utilisation from Data Centers, within the Roadmap Activity of providing leaner cooling and heat utilization. 

The main purpose of the Excess Heat Utilization Steering Group is to develop business cases and business models so that data centers operators, managers, etc. can benefit as a planning tool. At this stage, the Steering Group is working on various factors that affect the financial and technical feasibility of excess heat recovery.

The technology that GF Piping Systems is developing and implementing will actively contribute toward the fulfillment of SDIA’s Roadmap. Therefore, the primary contribution that GF Piping Systems is making to the Roadmap is lowering the total resource consumption across the life of the pipe while achieving higher thermal efficiency.

Data centers, as an integral part of digital infrastructure, have to pivot toward more sustainable solutions, and by using this technology, they are also playing their part in becoming more energy efficient and sustainable. 

If you would like to learn more on how you can engage in moving the SDIA Roadmap forward  or would like to join the Steering Groups, please contact us. For more information about GF Piping Systems, see their official website.

Michael Oghia
Michael Oghia
There are few people as passionate and engaged in the creation of a sustainable digital economy and the Internet as Michael. A true “connector," he is engaging with like-minded non-profit, media, and research organizations, extending our network, building Alliances, and bringing them along on the journey toward a sustainable digital economy. He is responsible for our communications activities and external affairs. Michael is based in Belgrade, Serbia.

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