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HP gets dairy farms, data centres to form a symbiotic bond

Posted: 25 May 2010     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:dairy farms  manure powered data centre 

Dairy farms and data centres may appear to be unexpected partners; however, HP Labs, the company's central research arm has demonstrated a data centre powered by manure creating an economically and environmentally sustainable operation.

In a research paper presented at the ASME International Conference on Energy Sustainability in Phoenix, Arizona, the HP researchers explain how a farm of 10,000 dairy cows could fulfil the power requirements of a 1MW data centre, the equivalent of a medium-sized data centre, with power left over to support other needs on the farm.

In this process, the heat generated by the data centre can be used to increase the efficiency of the anaerobic digestion of animal waste. This results in the production of methane, which can be used to generate power for the data centre. This symbiotic relationship allows the waste problems faced by dairy farms and the energy demands of the modern data centre to be addressed in a sustainable manner.

As per the research, the average dairy cow produces about 55kg of manure per day, and approximately 20metric tons per year – roughly equivalent to the weight of four adult elephants. The manure that one dairy cow produces in a day can generate 3kWh of electrical energy, which is enough to power television usage in three U.S. households per day.

A medium-sized dairy farm with 10,000 cows produces about 200,000 metric tons of manure per year. Approximately 70 per cent of the energy in the methane generated via anaerobic digestion could be used for data centre power and cooling, thus reducing the impact on natural resources. Pollutants from unmanaged livestock waste degrade the environment and can lead to groundwater contamination and air pollution. Methane is 21 times more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide, which means that in addition to being an inefficient use of energy, disposal of manure through flaring can result in steep greenhouse gas emission taxes.

In addition to benefiting the environment, using manure to generate power for data centres could provide financial benefit to farmers. HP researchers estimate that dairy farmers would break even in costs within the first two years of using a system like this and then earn roughly Rs.9.24 crore ($2 million) annually in revenue from selling waste-derived power to data centre customers.

Changing the energy equation
HP is working to transform the way in which businesses and societies organise and operate by changing the way energy is consumed and produced, thereby creating more sustainable ecosystems. HP Labs is committed to designing data centres that are substantially more efficient and use local, renewable energy resources.

Contemporary data centres are increasingly co-located with power generation or cooling resources to reduce operational costs. Power generation microgrids can take advantage of a variety of local power generation options to reduce the dependence on the utility grid for power. Microgrids can employ solar cells, wind turbines, biofuels or other sources, many of which are renewable, to generate electricity used to power data centres. The prevalence of dairy farms in the United States presents a co-location opportunity that generates biofuel from farm waste.

"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. 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 centre and the environment," says Tom Christian, principal research scientist, Sustainable IT Ecosystem Lab, HP

HP Labs design for a farm waste data centre eco-system(Click on image to enlarge.)

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