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Recycling servers: Exploring the biodegradable server

Steve Bigelow weighs in on a question about the potential of fully recycling servers with biodegradable chassis.

Can you explain the idea of recycling servers with biodegradable parts? Are these available now?

When a server is discarded, it can produce a significant amount of scrap -- especially the steel chassis. Considering that a technology refresh might involve dozens or even hundreds of servers every three to four years, it's easy to imagine the volume of waste material involved. And there are pollutants and waste to contend with, even when steel is successfully recycled.

In late 2012, Facebook's Open Compute project established a challenge to researchers to develop a chassis for Open Compute platforms that is strong enough to slide in and out of racks and support components like motherboards and power supplies, yet biodegrade when introduced to a landfill. There is ample precedent for biodegradable packaging in the food and medical device industries -- some materials even resemble a strong plastic -- but meeting the unique mechanical requirements of IT offers additional challenges for researchers. Efforts are expected to begin in early 2013, so practical biodegradable chassis may be several years away. Still, success may eventually save tremendous amounts of steel when recycling servers and eliminate pollutants from the environment.

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