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Innovative solutions to high emissions from the ICT sector

09/06/2009

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Emissions from the information and communications technology sector are set to rise, but ICT could be the solution to and not the source of high emissions according to Marc Benowitz, Director of Eco-Environmental Engineering at Alcatel-Lucent.

Alcatel-Lucent is a global telecommunications corporation based in Paris, France with a turnover in 2008 of €16.98 billion. It employs some 77 000 people and operates in more than 130 countries. The organisation places a heavy emphasis on research. Through its research and development subsidiary, Bell Labs, Alcatel-Lucent spent €2.5 billion on R&D in 2008.

What does Alcatel-Lucent do to improve the environment, and what is the ‘Eco-Sustainable Communications Transformation’ project?

Alcatel-Lucent strives to act and produce more sustainable and eco-friendly systems and services. The ‘Eco-Sustainable Communications Transformation’ project encompasses three elements. The first looks to improve sustainability through the products we design, develop, and manufacture. The second addresses how Alcatel-Lucent can operate in a more environmental-friendly manner. Finally, the third aspect promotes the concept of sustainability amongst our employees worldwide.

How have you changed your approach to designing products to make them more environmentally friendly?

The ICT industry is now responsible for 2% of global greenhouse-gas emissions, putting it on par with the aviation industry. Given the expansion of the sector, we expect this figure to double by 2020. This is despite the fact that the industry is making regular progress towards efficiency – i.e. the energy needed to send each megabyte of data across the Internet is falling by 30% annually. But, we believe that ICT can also enable emissions reductions in a variety of ways, such as travel mitigation. Our overall outlook is to reduce what the company contributes – in terms of emissions – by making products with a low emissions impact. We believe by doing so, ICT companies can create solutions that lead to reductions.

We follow eco-conscious design (ECD) guidelines in all our design processes, and these standards influence every product that we manufacture. For example, we have put in place restrictions on the use of certain chemicals in our products. These guidelines also direct our procurement policy. Overall they have made us conscious of the substances we use, particularly in terms of recyclable content and energy efficiency.

We also base our design process on life-cycle assessments, and we are mindful of the cradle-to-grave environmental impact of all our products. Our products have their highest environmental impact when they are in use; this makes energy efficiency an important issue. In terms of energy efficiency, we look for solutions that we can not only place in new products, but also adapt to retrofit older products. To this end, we try to come up with ways to improve the energy efficiency of old products with the minimum of hardware changes.

How do you improve the energy-efficiency of your networks?

We implement a concept known as ‘dynamic powering’ in our networks. Our aim is to modulate the power consumption of our base stations – radio receivers/transmitters that serve as the hub of local wireless networks – according to traffic demands. By developing systems that use energy based on traffic and demand, instead of being constantly on, we save customers between 25% and 40% in energy costs.

Another area that we have addressed is the cooling of networks. This is a major energy user. Simply put, for every unit of energy used to power, another must be used to cool.

Alcatel-Lucent has focused on developing heat sinks, particularly 3D heat sinks, which have twice the ability to dissipate heat from electronic systems. We have also been working on wireless base stations that don’t create as much heat, and therefore require less cooling. These systems operate without fans or air conditioning; instead, they harness passive cooling.

We are also looking into other systems, such as liquid cooling and mist cooling. In addition, the company is working on a method to harness the heat produced by systems. This heat will drive mini-turbines to produce their own power.

Do your systems harness alternative energy power sources?

Alcatel-Lucent has already set-up 300 base stations that run on photovoltaic panels, but we want to build upon this number. At our facility in Villarceaux, France, we are testing alternative energy systems to develop a catalogue of industrialised alternative energy powered equipment. This equipment will run base stations using a mix of alternative power sources, depending on the location.

What eco-friendly measures has Alcatel-Lucent introduced within the company?

We launched several initiatives during the 2009 Earth Week (19 to 25 April). These included the eco-sustainability awareness campaign ‘Let’s be eco-friendly’, which encourages Alcatel-Lucent employees to avoid printing documents, separate rubbish for recycling, save water, turn down thermostats, use teleconferencing to avoid travel and reduce commuting by car. Through these initiatives, we hope to encourage our employees to become ‘eco-ambassadors’.

We also launched a mobile phone recycling program beginning in North America and France. The initiative will recycle old mobile phones to help the environment and those who need emergency communications.

Commission ask ICT to play its part

The European Commission Communication on mobilising ICT to facilitate the transition to an energy-efficient, low-carbon economy, published in March 2009, emphasises the need to ensure ICT fully contributes to a sustainable society. It calls for a new public consultation to establish a common base for commitments to energy efficiency. Such a consultation will eventually form the basis of a Commission recommendation, expected in the second half of 2009. A working partnership between the ICT sector and the other major energy-using industries has also been called for, as the Commission believe the resulting dialogue will improve energy performance in all sectors.

More information:

‘Communication on mobilising ICT to facilitate the transition to an energy-efficient, low-carbon economy’ COM (2009) 111:
http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/activities/sustainable_growth/docs/com_2009_111/com2009-111-en.pdf [76 KB]