Forget wave power, Google and others may use poo power for data centers

May 19, 2010

Google has been tinkering with the idea of a floating, wave-powered data center for a while, but it looks like a better solution could come from a more basic power source:  manure.  Hewlett Packard has released a research paper that states that tech companies like themselves, Google, and Microsoft could benefit from a partnership with dairy farmers, using the cattle waste for fuel.

The research paper says that the dairy farmers could rent out land and power to the tech companies with a return on investment in waste-to-fuel systems in two years, making it a great arrangement for the farmers too.  Farmers want to build biogas plants where manure is processed and the methane produced is used in place of natural gas or diesel, but the cost of equipment is often too expensive for them to finance on their own.  This is where the tech companies come in.

As companies move their larger and larger data centers into rural areas with plenty of land, teaming up with local farms seems to be a natural fit -- farmers need a way to get rid of the vast amounts of waste and tech companies need an affordable, clean source of energy.

An average cow produces enough manure to power a 100-watt light bulb and 10,000 cows could potentially power a 1-MW data center, a small computing center.  But another possible link between the farms and companies is that the biogas systems require a lot of heat to make fuel and computing equipment in data centers produce a lot of waste heat, so a loop could be created where the biogas plant powers the data center and the waste heat from the data center helps power the biogas plant.

The paper sees California and Texas as being the testing grounds in the U.S. for this partnership, while China and India could also benefit from such an arrangement.

via NY Times



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