Could cow manure power your data centre?


HP researchers think cow manure could help power data centres - and give farmers an income boost in the process.

Clever folks from HP Labs are set to present a paper at the ASME International Conference on Energy Sustainability in Arizona today, which will detail their plans to use animal waste to power data centres.

The paper says a dairy farm of 10,000 cows would be enough to power a mid-sized data centre with power needs of about one megawatt (MW), while still leaving enough energy for the farm itself.

HP Labs Cow plans

"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 Tom Christian, principal research scientist for HP's sustainable IT ecosystem lab, in a statement.

"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," he added.

Good for the earth and farmers, too

Indeed, the plan doesn't just benefit data centres. If it works, it will prevent animal waste from polluting water and land, and keep greenhouse gas methane from polluting the air.

Farmers will sell off the energy, with HP predicting a two year return on investment - and $2 million in revenue each year after.

"We've taken a supply and demand side perspective," said Chandrakant Patel, director of the sustainable IT ecosystem lab, in an HP video. "We are going to the source of available energy, and in this case, the available energy is manure, cow dung."

The data centre need not depend entirely on cows, however. Patel suggested data centres have access to a local micro grid, which draws power from a host of sustainable resources, such as the sun, wind or biogas from animal waste.

"Many of the dairy farms are located where all these other sources are possible as well," he noted. "This is really about exploiting the resources that are local to make the data centre self sufficient."

You can view the rest of the video here:

Power and cooling data centres has evolved into a major environmental and cost issue for many companies, as more and more data is collected and held. Other green ideas include making use of sustainable energy sources like wind or waves, or locating them in colder places for natural cooling.