HP explores cow power for data centres

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HP explores cow power for data centres

Brings new meaning to 'server farm'.

Dairy farmers could go into the IT business by converting cow manure into electricity to power medium-scale data centres, according to researchers.

The HP researchers said [PDF] the waste from 10,000 dairy cows could provide enough power for a 1-megawatt (MW) data centre - with enough left over "to support other needs on the farm."

However, they stress the paper is "hypothetical" and that "a detailed financial analysis of the technologies is beyond the scope" of the paper - but planned for "future work".

Under the proposal, a data centre would be co-located with a farm or feedlot, utilising high-speed fibre links to connect back into the communications grid.

Also needed is an anaerobic digester, which uses micro-organisms to convert manure into biogas, which is fed into a turbine to produce electricity.

According to researchers, the manure produced by one dairy cow in a day "can generate 3.0 kWh of electrical energy".

There are about 125 operating digester projects at livestock farms in the United States, producing an estimated 290 million kilowatt hours of power.

Big data centre owners could provide the financial impetus for more farmers to invest in the necessary digester infrastructure, the researchers said.

"Existing farms that have invested in supply-side infrastructure often do so only if a power-purchase agreement can be signed," the paper said.

"Otherwise, the return could be too speculative to justify the capital investment.

"A data centre has substantial, continuous, and long-term power needs. Thus the data centre owner could sign the power purchase agreement and provide the assured return desired by the farmer."


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