A landmark of US military defence history in North Dakota, the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex, which has stood empty for decades, is now set to take on a new lease of life.

In June, Bitzero, a Norway-based data centre developer, selected the site for its headquarters and data centres for North American operations. The company expects to invest a total of $500m in North Dakota.

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Bitzero claims that it will operate data centres in line with Zero Carbon Displacement (ZCD) energy strategy, offsetting the carbon footprint of the data centre with the use of renewable energy sources.

In addition, Bitzero plans to use waste heat captured from the data centre’s servers to heat on-site greenhouses. 

“Crypto-related investment will add long-term infrastructure development to the local economy,” the North Dakota Department of Commerce tells fDi.

Crypto-related investment will add long-term infrastructure development to the local economy

North Dakota Department of Commerce

From military facility to data centre  

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The missile site radar and surrounding buildings, known as ‘The Pyramid’, were built in Nekoma, North Dakota, to protect the nearby Air Force Base from potential attack from Soviet missiles during the cold war.

However, the facility was decommissioned in 1976 after it became fully operational in 1975 and has been abandoned since then.

The complex will fit the purposes of Bitzero’s data centres as “it originally was a data processing facility and the system was the largest processor in the world at that time,” Carol Goodman, consultant for the redevelopment of the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex at the Cavalier County Job Development Authority (CCJDA), tells fDi

After 46 years, Bitzero took over the site to develop it into 200 megawatts of data centres for high-performance computing and data processing. The company expects to build the data centres within three years and to become an assembly and distribution hub for graphene battery technology. It expects to hire 35 to 50 people once the centres are operational.

This “monument of peace” will reappear “as a beacon for change in the now biggest challenge we are facing, climate change”, Akbar Shamji, CEO of Bitzero, said in a statement.

North Dakota State governor Doug Burgum expects that North Dakota will be the key location for data-related and crypto-related projects backed by clean energy and affordable electricity. “The state is working with energy companies to strategically locate data centres near existing energy infrastructure to maximise the assets the energy companies already have in place,” a spokesperson tells fDi.

Zero carbon strategy

Operating data centres requires the use of vast computer servers within a high-quality environment such as a certain temperature and humidity to function well. 

Data centres can consume up to 100 or even 200 times as much electricity as standard office spaces, according to energy transition network CelsiusEU’s analysis. A study published in Joule in 2019 reported that the range of annual carbon emission resulting from crypto mining is from 22 to 22.9 metric tonnes of CO2 which is comparable to the level of emissions of countries such as Jordan or Sri Lanka.

However, the company claims that it is “the first data centre company to displace zero carbon and ESG focused ecosystems”, as Bitzero's chief operating officer, Naeem Walji, has said. Bitzero says that it takes an “ESG dedicated” approach by operating its data centres with renewable sources without fossil fuel backups for their operations. 

Heat recycling in the data centres industry is not entirely a new phenomenon. The industry is looking to leverage its energy consumption into assets. Heat recycling projects allow huge data centres to contribute large amounts of heat energy to their communities. Facebook expects its data system will warm 6900 homes in Denmark, and Amazon uses waste heat from its data centres to warm local buildings in Ireland.

Mr Shamji said that waste heat captured from the data centre’s servers will be used to heat an on-site greenhouse in North Dakota as a part of the company’s ZCD strategy.

This article first appeared in the October/November 2022 print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.