Bitzero data centers planned in North Dakota: 'Data is the new oil'
Bitzero Blockchain Inc. plans to make North Dakota its North American headquarters. Besides massive data centers worth up to $500 million, the company has a joint venture involving graphene batteries to store electricity and plans future announcements involving solar and wind energy in the state.
FARGO — North Dakota’s capacity to store greenhouse gases deep underground and its supportive clean carbon policies are the drivers of a company's plan to build data centers in the state.
The announcement by Bitzero Blockchain Inc. and its strategic investor on Wednesday, June 1, was heralded by Gov. Doug Burgum as the latest sign that the state is becoming a magnet for clean energy development.
Plans call for using waste heat from a data center to help warm a sprawling greenhouse that the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation is building on the Fort Berthold Reservation.
Bitzero will partner with the MHA Nation to purchase hydropower from the Missouri River dams — including Garrison Dam, which formed Lake Sakakawea, flooding the tribes’ fertile lowlands.
Plans call for locating a 50-megawatt Bitzero data center near the huge greenhouse the tribes are building. Heat given off from the data center’s servers will be captured and used to heat the greenhouse, large enough to cover seven football fields. Heat also will be captured from natural gas produced on the reservation.
“Once we build this facility it’s going to be the largest greenhouse in North Dakota,” said Chairman Mark Fox of the MHA Nation.
Bitzero is in “multiple discussions” for other projects that are expected to come to fruition over the next few months, which will include wind and solar projects.
Bitzero plans to build 200 megawatts of data centers in North Dakota in the next two to three years, representing an investment of $400 million to $500 million.
Vancouver-based Bitzero also announced that it has formed a joint venture to use graphene battery technology and plans to bring an assembly and distribution hub to North Dakota that will involve an investment of $200 million to $500 million in the next two to three years.
North Dakota lignite coal is a source of graphene, and the state is involved in efforts to demonstrate on an industrial scale the commercial feasibility of capturing carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants, Burgum said.
"This is not something that's way in the future," he said. "Coal Creek is going to be the first to get this done." Plans call for Coal Creek Station, the state's largest coal-burning power plant, to be retrofitted to capture carbon-dioxide from its smokestacks.
Bitzero’s North American headquarters will be located in North Dakota, with a staff of 15 to 20 employees.
“You’ll be seeing a lot of us, that’s for sure,” said Akbar Shamji, founder and CEO of Bitzero. “We’re torn between Fargo and Bismarck at the moment. We’re working on that now.”
At least initially, the Bitzero data centers will be used to "mine" cryptocurrency, a process involving powerful computers that make the complex calculations required for the digital currency.
Kevin O’Leary, who has appeared on the TV show "Shark Tank" to vet business proposals, is a strategic investor in Bitzero. O'Leary stressed that there are many demands for data centers, as information is stored remotely in the "cloud" and technologies increasingly use large amounts of data.
The locations of the Bitzero data centers and other details weren't made public on Wednesday.
Founded in 2021, Bitzero has raised almost $100 million in investment capital and plans soon to have an initial public offering on the Canadian stock exchange and later will be listed on the technology-focused NASDAQ stock exchange once regulatory approval is granted.
O’Leary said North Dakota’s ample energy resources, geological capacity to safely store greenhouse gases and supportive policies make it a promising location for zero-emission data centers, for which there is growing demand.
“This is an incredible place,” he said. “This is a state that’s going to compete with the likes of Florida and Texas.”
The digital economy is growing in importance, O’Leary said. “Data is the new oil,” he said. Data processors — to handle the vast data needs of a growing fleet of devices, including autonomous vehicles and drones — provide critical infrastructure.
“That’s what this is,” digital infrastructure, he said. Also, “North Dakota is safe and stable. This is an opportunity to show the rest of the world how to do it.”
North Dakota is a logical choice for Bitzero given the state’s goal of being carbon neutral by 2030 and emphasizing innovation instead of regulation, Burgum said.
“Bitzero’s decision to locate its North American headquarters in North Dakota is yet another example of how our state is emerging as the location of choice for clean energy data centers supported by reliable, affordable electricity produced with environmental stewardship,” he said.
Bitzero isn't planning major investments in North Dakota because of any incentive packages. "That's not what's driving this," Shamji said. Instead, the state's policies are what attracted the company, he said.
North Dakota provides a sales-and-use tax break on new computing equipment.
The growing data center industry — development of two other huge data centers in North Dakota was announced earlier this year — will help diversify the state’s economy, Burgum said.
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