How data centres can build fire resilience with stone wool insulation

Sandwich Panel

Stone wool insulation for data centres

12 Oct, 2023


Fire at a data centre can have consequences that extend far beyond the data center itself. Architects can help their clients to control that risk by choosing non-combustible stone wool as the insulation in sandwich panels for fire resistance, energy efficiency and scalability.

Data centres play a vital role in today's digital age by storing and processing massive amounts of data. However, some recent incidents have shown a pressing need for data centre buildings to be fire resistant. Fire can arise from many sources, such as electrical faults, overheating, human error, equipment failures, and other factors. But once initiated, well-chosen building materials can contain the spread of flame and heat. 

The key is to use materials that provide fire resistance without compromising physical security, flexibility, control of cost and project timescales. Stone wool-insulated sandwich panels can support all of these goals, making them ideal for data centre construction.

Data centre fires

This is highlighted by two recent incidents. In March 2023, leakage of cooling water caused a fault in an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) at Google Cloud’s data centre in Paris. The resulting blaze caused a “multi-cluster” failure, leading to the shutdown of over 90 cloud services and severe consequences for businesses and individuals relying on these services. 

Similarly, a fire destroyed one of four buildings and rendered another unusable at an OVHCloud site in Strasbourg, northern France in March 2021. The incident disrupted access to millions of websites, including government, banking and news sites. 

Eighteen months later, OVHCloud opened two new facilities with physical separation, as well as enhanced fire detection, suppression and resistance technology. This includes walls that will withstand heat and flame for two hours. 

Enhancing fire resilience with stone wool insulation

Although both operators worked fast to recover services for customers, fire can have a long-lasting impact on a data centre business. The Strasbourg event a shadow over OVHCloud’s planned Initial Public Offering (IPO), while Google Cloud is no doubt still reacting to the long-tail effects. 

Clearly, the best way to limit the impact of fire is to limit the fire itself. This can be achieved with rapid detection and suppression, as well as designing buildings with inherent fire resistance. 

Architects also need construction technology that supports other important design factors. Data centres need to provide constant humidity and temperature to optimise the operation of the servers. In addition, they need to provide physical security and blend in with their surroundings, while being accessible for maintenance. Operators also want buildings that will minimise lifetime costs and greenhouse gas emissions. 

Sandwich panels are an ideal construction technology to meet these needs, particularly with non-combustible stone wool as insulation. Sandwich panels are a modular technology that can control project costs and timescales. 

Meanwhile, stone wool insulation is made from natural volcanic rock, therefore has a high melting point and is non-combustible, meaning it does not contribute to the spread of flames. 

The resulting sandwich panels have a fire classification rating of A2-s1, d0 under the EN1351 Euroclass standard. This enables them to act as a fire barrier, preventing the propagation of fires within a building. This provides valuable time for evacuation and emergency responders to mitigate the situation.

An energy efficient, sustainable solution

When it comes to thermal performance, stone wool insulated sandwich panels also offer significant energy efficiency benefits when used in a building envelope. The insulation reduces heat transfer to maintain a stable indoor temperature and reduce energy demand for heating or cooling. It also protects indoor comfort by providing control over thermal displacement, where the insulation delays the transfer of heat until the evening, when outdoor temperatures have dropped to the point where natural ventilation can be used for cooling. In addition, when used in a green roofing system, it can reduce the urban heat island effect. 

These panels also contribute to sustainability in other ways. They have a long lifespan and enable buildings to be altered or rebuilt elsewhere. At the end of their life, they are largely recyclable, as their two main components, steel and stone wool, can be remelted and recycled. 

Ultimately, as data centres become more important to society, they have become essential to public safety. And as shown by recent incidents, a fire can have long-reaching effects. 

All things considered, stone wool insulated sandwich panels offer a very solid solution for enhancing the fire resilience of data centres. By choosing sandwich panels with stone wool insulation, architects and engineers can create data centre facilities that prioritise safety, optimise energy consumption, and minimise environmental impact. 

Written by

Daniela Pasquero
Daniela Pasquero

Daniela Pasquero, who holds a degree in Civil Engineering from Politecnico of Turin and a PhD in Mechanics of Materials from Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées, has specialised in Product Management for the sandwich panel activity of ROCKWOOL Core Solutions. Her professional career starts in Research & Development, where she worked on innovation of insulating materials (one patent pertaining to aerogel-based material), and in 2012 she joined ROCKWOOL France as a Project Manager of Internal Insulation where she registered two patents for insulating systems. In 2019, she took a new position as a Product Manager at ROCKWOOL Core Solutions, specialising in stone wool core insulation for sandwich panels.

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