Infrastructure development is essential to global development. Considering the fact that construction industry plays a huge role in this, it is important to ensure that the sector flourishes well. However, it becomes a conflict of interest with environment sustainability when it is pointed out that Cement, as one of the most frequently used construction materials on the planet, contributes around 8% of global carbon emissions.
With an aim to address this issue, researchers at Facebook parent company Meta has set out to produce a less energy-intensive formula for the concrete it uses in its data centres, relying on machine intelligence to optimise both sturdiness and sustainability in the process.
The experiment, which was carried out in collaboration with a team from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, is said to have resulted in a concrete-making technology that is 40% less carbon-intensive than the regional average of the Chicago-area data centre where it was tested.
“Using the input data on concrete formulas along with their corresponding compressive strength and carbon footprint, the Al model was able to generate a number of promising new concrete mixes that could meet our stated data center requirements with a lower embodied carbon impact than the industry standard,” the study authors said in a statement.
The researchers used a library of several concrete formulations and their carbon impact and strength to build an artificial intelligence algorithm. The algorithm generated a list of formulas from which the team selected five to test and enhance in their lab.
The researchers were eventually able to narrow down the selection to one final solution that used carbon-reducing cement replacements like fly ash and slag. Cement, gravel, and sand are commonly used in the production of concrete.
At one of Meta’s data centres in DeKalb, Illinois, the researchers put the formula to the test on a few noncritical structures. According to the company, the material met strength criteria and reduced construction energy consumption by roughly 40% compared to the regional average.
A step towards Net-Zero by 2030
The trial takes place as huge internet companies face increased scrutiny over the energy use of their physical infrastructure, including the vast swaths of servers they keep in far-flung locations around the world. Meta has established a target of zero emissions across its whole supply chain by 2030.
“Climate change is one of the biggest challenges we face,” Meta chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer said in a statement. “Delivering essential technologies and reliable climate information to billions of people is at the heart of how Meta can help address the crisis. And we believe we can do it with a net zero carbon footprint.”
Meta is now adjusting the formula so that the resulting concrete can reach full strength in a shorter amount of time, taking into consideration its unique building requirements. It’s also putting the concrete’s resistance to specific types of harsh weather to the test. The authors believe that the findings may eventually help others in the building sector better modify their ingredient ratios to promote sustainability, according to the study report that accompanied the experiment.
In the future, the company hopes to apply the same AI technique to other parts of infrastructure design and development.
“The resulting concrete mixes from our model can be used outside of data center construction and there is an opportunity to further develop this model to address other use cases,” the authors wrote. “Our exploration of innovative solutions to reduce data center construction emissions is not limited to concrete. There are opportunities to reduce the emissions of other materials. We are also exploring innovative data center designs as another way to improve sustainability.”