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Large Dairy Farms Could Power Data Centers

HP researchers say that the future of green power for data centers could involve following the herd very closely.

HP researchers say that the future of green power for data centers could involve following the herd very closely.It was bound to happen, and this week HP Labs (HP's research arm) did make it happen: data centers have been envisioned to run on manure. And we are not talking about the rhetorical, bureaucratic kind. No, we are talking about the physical kind that the average dairy cow generates 20 tons of yearly.

And that tonnage is the whole point, according to a research paper recently presented at the ASME International Conference on Energy Sustainability in Phoenix. According to HP's calculations, a herd of 10,000 cows ought to generate enough manure to sustain methane production sufficient to power a one-megawatt (i.e., medium-sized) data center. Meanwhile, burning the methane prevents it from becoming a greenhouse gas.

However, 10,000 cows is about 100 times the size of the average US dairy herd. But herds of that size do exist, and by lighting up the output of the anaerobic digestion of the cows' secondary production, a farmer could break even in two years, says HP Labs. Thereafter the farmer could make $2 million yearly from energy sales.

Data centers that elect to follow this model could get off the grid entirely and locate anywhere in the heartland where enough cows congregate. (Pigs would work, too.) Basically, it's no crazier (and doubtless a lot more convenient) than moving to Iceland, where they have cheap power and little need for air conditioning.

But for the SMB server user, a better bet for going green would seem to be to the traditional route of staying lean, energy-wise. And you won't have to put up with the jokes that the cow-powered data center managers will have to face.

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