HP designs sustainable datacenter fueled by cow manure

Hewlett Packard researchers demonstrated a design for a sustainable datacenter that can be fueled by cow manure.

The research arm of computing giant Hewlett Packard demonstrated on Wednesday a design for a sustainable datacenter that can be fueled by cow manure.

In a research paper presented at the ASME International Conference on Energy Sustainability in Phoenix, Ariz., researchers from HP Labs explained how a farm of 10,000 dairy cows could fulfill the power requirements of a medium-sized, 1-megawatt datacenter, and still have power left over to support other farm needs.

The process works like so: heat generated by the datacenter is used to increase the efficiency of the anaerobic digestion of animal waste. This process creates methane, which can be used to generate power for the data center.

It may not smell very good, but it's a viable economic and environmental answer to power-hungry computing.

Takeaways from the report:

  • The average dairy cow produces about 120 lbs. of manure per day.
  • That amount of manure can generate 3.0 kilowatt-hours of electrical energy.
  • 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 via anaerobic digestion can be used for datacenter power and cooling.
  • Methane is 21 times more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide -- a problem for farms that choose to dispose of manure by "flaring" it.
  • HP researchers estimated that dairy farmers would break even in costs within the first two years of using a system like this, then earn about $2 million per year in revenue from selling waste-derived power to datacenter customers.

Even better news: there are an awful lot of dairy farms in the U.S.

The concept, which is called "co-location," is simple: marry a power hog with an energy producer on the same plot of land, and you've got a miniature ecosystem that more or less cancels out each side of the equation.

Here's a video of Chandrakant Patel, director of the Sustainable IT Ecosystem Lab at HP Labs, explaining the system:

It also proves beneficial for other means. Since farms -- particularly those in the Midwest -- are quite optimal for wind farms and other energy sources, it appears as though the U.S. may find renewed economic benefit from its wide open spaces.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com