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This article is part of our Essential Guide: Building with modern data center design in mind

Question about inert gas for data center fire suppression

Using tanks filled with inert gas to protect the data center from fires requires proper placement to avoid danger if a rupture occurs.

We are one of the leading private data centers in India and are planning to expand our data centers. Keeping in...

mind the environmental consequences, we are planning to establish inert gases for fire suppression in data centers, besides using FM gases. The problem is that we need 300 kilograms of pressure with a capacity of 5,500 kilograms of inert gas for each floor in one cylinder. We are planning to build a $2 million data center. We are not able to find the manufacturers who can manufacture those cylinders with 300 kilograms of pressure. (For our English unit readers, he is looking for a tank that will hold 12,130 pounds of gas at 14.2 pounds per square inch, or 2,050 pounds per square foot of pressure.)

First, I have to make some assumptions. When you say "inert gases," I assume you mean such products as Inergen and Argonite that are made up entirely of atmospheric gases -- nitrogen, argon and, in the case of the Inergen system, a small amount of carbon dioxide. But these products use multiple tanks -- in fact, quite a large number of tanks. I don't know where you have gotten your figures, but the tanks for these systems are usually about 19 to 23 kilograms (42 to 50 pounds) of gas each, so if you really need 5,500 kilograms for each floor, each system would require about 241 of the larger cylinders. That's a big system and a lot of space.

With regard to pressure, the tanks are available in both 200 bar and 300 bar ratings. Pressure always requires a unit area dimension, so I'll assume you mean 300 kilograms per square centimeter, which is about the same as 300 bars. If so, the tanks are available for that pressure, but certainly not in the enormous size you have listed. One of their concerns with these systems has always been the high tank pressures. Since the tanks must be close to the data center in order to minimize pipe lengths, we always recommend putting them in a "hardened" room. While the chance of a tank rupturing and exploding is very small, if it ever happened, it could send pieces of metal right through standard walls. Using either concrete or steel plates on the walls makes us feel much safer.

But something about your figures doesn't seem right, so I have to wonder where they came from. These systems generally require about 0.75 kilograms of gas per cubic meter (1.65 pounds per 35 cubic foot) of room volume. This would make your new data centers about 7,333 cubic meters (259,000 cubic feet) each. With a standard 4 meter (13 foot) ceiling height that would equate to about 1,833 square meters (19,730 square feet) on each floor. Data centers that large would cost many times the $2 million figure you have given. Therefore, I have to think there is a significant error somewhere in your figures, and that perhaps you don't really have nearly as big a problem as you think you have. But if the floors are really this large, I would suggest sub-dividing them, zoning the fire suppression to reduce the lengths of pipe runs and avoiding dumping all the gas at once if a problem ever occurs.

About the author:

Robert McFarlane is a principal in charge of data center design at Shen Milsom and Wilke LLC, with more than 35 years of experience. An expert in data center power and cooling, he helped pioneer building cable design and is a corresponding member of ASHRAE TC9.9. McFarlane also teaches at Marist College's Institute for Data Center Professionals.

This was last published in April 2013

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