AWS wants to fuel its data centers with vegetable oil - which could actually be terrible

(Image credit: Amazon)

Amazon wants to move from powering its data centers with diesel to hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), a biofuel that’s often waste cooking or residue oils.

Per The Register, and following similar changes made by Google in April 2022, the tech giant’s cloud storage service Amazon Web Services (AWS) first started moving away from diesel power in January 2023. and has now begun fuelling the backup power generators for its data center sites in Ireland and Sweden. 

The ultimate goal, AWS says, is to make this change across all of its European sites eventually, and that moving to HVO as a power source could result in “a 90 percent reduction” in greenhouse gasses compared to diesel.

AWS HVO switch

There are some considerable problems with the switch: for one, hydrotreating vegetable oil does involve reacting the oils with hydrogen at high pressures and temperatures, making it, essentially, renewable diesel.

Despite this, AWS is sticking to that 90 percent statistic, and obviously it must have some motivation to make the switch. This could also be operational costs, as the ecommerce giant has noted that part of what makes HVO preferable to other biofuels is that it is compatible with its existing generators without modification.

“By making this commitment to using sustainably sourced HVO at our data center sites, we hope to pave the way for other businesses, and help establish a global supply chain that will accelerate change across Europe, working in collaboration with other organizations,” said AWS’ Director of Infrastructure Operations for Northern Europe, Neil Morris.

Plus, The Register points out that there are plenty of other environmental risks with shifts to sustainable biofuels, which include deforestation and food price inflation, and that there’s a need to ensure an ethical supply chain.

Otherwise, you end up with the claim by Swedish freight company Einride that 50% of Swedish HVO is made of palm oil, with producers reluctant to disclose how the sausage is made. The European Commission has some idea (PDF), though, citing the destruction of Orangutan habitats and forced child labour.

Luke Hughes
Staff Writer

 Luke Hughes holds the role of Staff Writer at TechRadar Pro, producing news, features and deals content across topics ranging from computing to cloud services, cybersecurity, data privacy and business software.