HP Labs Designs Data Center Fueled by Manure

Research demonstrates ability to create a sustainable IT ecosystem using dairy farm waste.

Published on: May 24, 2010

HP has presented new research from HP Labs, the company's central research arm, showing how the manure output of cows and the heat output of data centers can be combined to create an economically and environmentally sustainable operation.

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

In this process, the heat generated by the data center 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 center. This symbiotic relationship allows the waste problems faced by dairy farms and the energy demands of the modern data center to be addressed in a sustainable manner.


• Dairy farms and data centers may appear to be unexpected partners; however, HP Labs has shown that the specific needs and challenges of both can be aligned to create a sustainable life cycle, using technologies readily available today.

• The average dairy cow produces about 55 kg (120 pounds) of manure per day, and approximately 20 metric tons per year - roughly equivalent to the weight of four adult elephants. 
• The manure that one dairy cow produces in a day can generate 3.0 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electrical energy, which is enough to power television usage in three U.S. households per day.(1) 
• A medium-sized dairy farm with 10,000 cows produces about 200,000 metric tons of manure per year. Approximately 70% of the energy in the methane generated via anaerobic digestion could be used for data center 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 centers 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 $2 million annually in revenue from selling waste-derived power to data center customers.

Changing the energy equation

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

Contemporary data centers 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 centers. The prevalence of dairy farms in the United States presents a co-location opportunity that generates biofuel from farm waste.

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  1. MyCEA says:

    One person's trash is another person's treasure...or in this case, energy. Biomass has long been sought as a means of energy generation. And why not? Companies should seek to aggressively look at the implications of using biomass to fuel their industries. Normally, the methane and other byproducts of decomposition are just released into the atmosphere. As the world is moving towards a more sustainable energy infrastructure, biomass may be the cash cow (no pun intended). Want to learn more about balanced energy for America? Visit www.consumerenergyalliance.org to get involved, discover CEA’s mission and sign up for our informative newsletter.

  2. erich says:

    CoalTec has several Gasifiers built and in planning. One project will consume 16 tons per day of dairy & poultry litter and produce 2.2 MW exported power and 4 tons of biochar per day , now selling for $200 / ton. Manure char also becomes a time release Phosphorous fertilizer, and an even higher value stream, is mitigation of heavy metals in soils. LCA shows 3 year pay back without even considering Carbon credits for soil C sequestration, Pollution credits for nitrogen removal from the water shed, or the increased crop yields.produced by stimulation of the soil food web. All political persuasions agree, building soil carbon is GOOD. To Hard bitten Farmers, wary of carbon regulations that only increase their costs, Building soil carbon is a savory bone, to do well while doing good. Biochar provides the tool powerful enough to cover Farming's carbon foot print while lowering cost simultaneously. Agriculture allowed our cultural accent and Agriculture will now prevent our descent. Wise Land management; Organic farming and afforestation can build back our soil carbon, Biochar allows the soil food web to build much more recalcitrant organic carbon, ( living biomass & Glomalins) in addition to the carbon in the biochar. Biochar, the modern version of an ancient Amazonian agricultural practice called Terra Preta (black earth, TP), is gaining widespread credibility as a way to address world hunger, climate change, rural poverty, deforestation, and energy shortages… SIMULTANEOUSLY! Every 1 ton of Biomass yields 1/3 ton Charcoal for soil Sequestration (= to 1 Ton CO2e) + Bio-Gas & Bio-oil fuels = to 1MWh exported electricity, so is a totally virtuous, carbon negative energy cycle. Biochar viewed as soil Infrastructure; The old saw; "Feed the Soil Not the Plants" becomes; "Feed, Cloth and House the Soil, utilities included !". Free Carbon Condominiums with carboxyl group fats in the pantry and hydroxyl alcohol in the mini bar. Build it and the Wee-Beasties will come. Microbes like to sit down when they eat. By setting this table we expand husbandry to whole new orders & Kingdoms of life. This is what I try to get across to Farmers, as to how I feel about the act of returning carbon to the soil. An act of penitence and thankfulness for the civilization we have created. Farmers are the Soil Sink Bankers, once carbon has a price, they will be laughing all the way to it. Unlike CCS which only reduces emissions, biochar systems draw down CO2 every energy cycle, closing a circle back to support the soil food web. The photosynthetic "capture" collectors are up and running, the "storage" sink is in operation just under our feet. Pyrolysis conversion plants are the only infrastructure we need to build out. Another significant aspect of low cost Biomass cook stoves that produce char is removal of BC aerosols and no respiratory disease emissions. At Scale, replacing "Three Stone" stoves the health benefits would equal eradication of Malaria http://biocharfund.org/ The Congo Basin Forest Fund (CBFF).recently funded The Biochar Fund $300K for these systems citing these priorities; (1) Hunger amongst the world's poorest people, the subsistence farmers of Sub-Saharan Africa, (2) Deforestation resulting from a reliance on slash-and-burn farming, (3) Energy poverty and a lack of access to clean, renewable energy, and (4) Climate change. The Biochar Fund : Exceptional results from biochar experiment in Cameroon http://scitizen.com/screens/blogPage/viewBlog/sw_viewBlog.php?idTheme=14&idContribution=3011 The broad smiles of 1500 subsistence farmers say it all ( that , and the size of the Biochar corn root balls ) http://biocharfund.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=55&Itemid=75 Mark my words; Given the potential for Laurens Rademaker's programs to grow exponentially, only a short time lies between This man's nomination for a Noble Prize. This authoritative PNAS article should

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