HP Lab Delivers Blueprint for Data Center Powered by Cow Manure

by | May 19, 2010

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HP’s research arm, HP Labs,  has designed a system that combines cow manure with the heat output of data centers to create an environmentally sustainable operation. The research paper shows how a farm with 10,000 dairy cows can meet the power requirements of a medium-sized, 1-megawatt (MW) data center with enough power leftover to support other electrical requirements on the farm.

The report was released at the ASME International Conference on Energy Sustainability in Phoenix, Arizona. Click here for the presentation.

HP says the heat generated by the data center can be used to increase the efficiency of the anaerobic digestion of animal waste, which results in the production of methane that can be used to generate power for the data center, solving the waste problems faced by dairy farms and the high-energy demands of data centers.

The manure that one dairy cow produces in a day can generate 3.0 kWh of electrical energy, and a mid-sized dairy farm with 10,000 cows produces about 200,000 metric tons of manure per year, estimates HP.  Approximately 70 percent of the energy in the methane generated from this manure could be used for data center power and cooling, say HP researchers.

In addition to the environmental benefits such as eliminating groundwater contamination and air pollution as a result of unmanaged livestock waste, using manure to generate power for data centers also could provide financial benefits to farmers, say HP researchers.

They estimate that dairy farmers would break even in costs within the first two years of using this  system and then earn roughly $2 million annually from selling the power to data center customers.

Chandrakant Patel of HP Labs explains the research in a video.

Green Energy Live, which develops on-site biomass-to-energy conversion solutions for livestock operators in the U.S., reports an increase in demand for manure management solutions.

Driving some of the demand is the new partnership between the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture, which will provide up to $3.9 million over the next five years to help farms implement biogas recovery systems. Currently, about 150 on-farm manure or anaerobic digesters are now operating at livestock facilities in the U.S.

China recently announced the world’s largest cow-manure fueled biogas power project at a dairy farm with 250,000 cows. The farm will generate 38,000 mWh of power annually, which will be sold to the state grid in China. The project is expected to reduce about 180,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually

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