Green-powered data centers are becoming more common, but HP has a new twist on the trend. The company reported this week that its research arm, HP Labs, has figured out a way to combine the manure output of cows with the heat output of data centers to create an economical and environmentally sustainable operation.
In a paper presented at the ASME International Conference on Energy Sustainability in Phoenix, HP researchers explained how a farm of 10,000 dairy cows could fulfill the power requirements of a 1 megawatt data center -- about the equivalent of a medium-sized data center. There would even be enough electricity left over to power other operations on the farm.
“The idea of using animal waste to generate energy has been around for centuries, with manure being used every day in remote villages to generate heat for cooking,” said HP scientist Tom Christian. “The new idea that we are presenting in this research is to create a symbiotic relationship between farms and the IT ecosystem that can benefit the farm, the data center and the environment.”
In the process researched by HP, heat generated from the data center would be used to increase the efficiency of the anaerobic digestion of animal waste. This would result in the production of methane, a gas that could be used to generate power for the data center.
Dairy farmers would have a unique and potentially profitable means of dealing with the waste from their cows, and data center operators could reduce their environmental footprint.
The average dairy cow produces about 120 pounds of manure per day.The manure that one dairy cow produces in a day can generate 3 kilowatt-hours of electricity, enough to power televisions in three homes per day.
A medium-sized dairy farm with 10,000 cows produces about 200,000 metric tons of manure per year. Approximately 70 percent of the energy in the methane generated by anaerobic digestion could be used for data center power and cooling.
HP estimates that a dairy farmer would break even in costs within the first two years of using such a system, and then earn roughly $2 million annually in revenue from selling waste-derived power to data center customers.
HP said it has no immediate plans to build a manure-powered server farm, but believes they are a very real possibility. And the concept doesn’t need to stop with cows -- a data center powered by pigs could fly too.
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