A remarkable concept that could support power-hungry data centres and reduce power-wasting and environmentally dangerous gas flaring looks like gaining some traction in the Middle East after two recently announced investment deals.
Oman’s sovereign wealth fund the Oman Investment Authority (OIA) and Abu Dhabi’s sovereign investor Mubadala Investment Company have agreed to invest in a process called digital flare mitigation from US company Crusoe Energy, a self-described pioneer of clean computing infrastructure.
The idea is to site containerized data centres next to oil wells. They would then be powered by natural gas, a by-product of the oil production process.
When petroleum crude oil is extracted and produced from oil wells, raw natural gas is brought to the surface as well. Vast amounts of such associated gas are commonly flared as waste or unusable gas. The Crusoe Energy process means the waste gas is fully combusted, so methane is not released, although it appears that CO2 still is.
This process has enjoyed some success in the US. Crusoe says its 98 digital flare mitigation data centres have prevented an estimated 2.5 billion cubic feet from flaring and achieved up to 99.89% elimination of methane emissions – emissions estimated at 650,000 metric tons per year, comparable, says Crusoe, to removing approximately 140,000 cars from the road.
While some would argue that oil production itself is a problem, Crusoe’s point that the world’s appetite for computation, energy and progress will never stop growing is undoubtedly true. Until oil production itself ceases therefore, this may be a workable approach to feeding that appetite from an otherwise wasted resource.