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Power HP Science

10,000 Cows Can Power 1,000 Servers 221

Posted by samzenpus
from the cattle-computing dept.
CWmike writes "Reducing energy consumption in data centers, particularly with the prospect of a federal carbon tax, is pushing vendors to explore an ever-growing range of ideas. HP engineers say that biogas may offer a fresh alternative energy approach for IT managers. Researchers at HP Labs presented a paper (download PDF) on using cow manure from dairy farms and cattle feedlots and other 'digested farm waste' to generate electricity to an American Society of Mechanical Engineers conference, held this week. In it, the research team calculates that 'a hypothetical farm of 10,000 dairy cows' could power a 1 MW data center — or on the order of 1,000 servers. One trend that makes the idea of turning organic waste into usable power for data centers is the moves by several firms to build facilities in rural locations, where high-speed networks allow them to take advantage of the cost advantages of such areas. But there are some practical problems, not the least of which is connecting a data center to the cows. If it does happen, the move could call for a new take on plug and play: plug and poo."
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10,000 Cows Can Power 1,000 Servers

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  • by newcastlejon (1483695) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @02:52AM (#32275934)
    Anyway, how many cow's worth is it going to take to cart around all these tonnes of shit to the nearest power plant?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 20, 2010 @03:07AM (#32276004)

    Are we not just removing more from the earth. I though the poo adds nutrients back into the earth. It allows plants to grow, in the form of compost.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 20, 2010 @03:46AM (#32276168)

    ...is this?

    Seriously. Every time I see such stupid headlines, I cringe (and that's quite often these days, that's why I'm becoming ever grumpier).

    10000 cows => 1MW. OK. That's all we need to know.

    Besides, they're allotting 1KW per server. Power hungry, those HP servers, ain't they?

  • by Fleetie (603229) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @04:26AM (#32276310) Homepage
    That's what this seems to rely on: The conversion of methane (CH4) to CO2 by combustion. Is CH4 a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2? I seem to remember it is, but I'm not sure.
  • Re:matrix (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cmdr_tofu (826352) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @05:52AM (#32276716) Homepage

    I'm an intelligent slashdot crowd, and I'm vegan you insensitive clod!

    But in essence, I agree (I mean read my handle). So I want to rephrase your question a little.... Ok given our current cow-poo management policies, it seems like it would make sense to get electricity from it, but if people we to stop eating cows, drinking, milk, dedicating land to cows, the land and water that is used for raising cattle (and growing grain to feel the cattle), could be used much more effectively. I think in order to be fair, we need to compare a cow-poop scheme to a growing mustard, and producing biodiesel from it scheme.

    Of course given that we are engaged in this wasteful misuse/abuse of animals, I don't see anything wrong with using the poop. I would surmise that the energy generate from cow-poop is less than the energy needed to run the tractors to feed the cows. But I'm not anti-poop digestion at all. I think humanure is probably one of the greatest sources of untapped energy.... (insert human poop jokes here) But seriously, why aren't we looking at running data centers (or at least their generators) off humanure? Centralized poop collection must become culturally acceptable!

  • Re:matrix (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mpeskett (1221084) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @06:47AM (#32277038)

    (Cue the knee jerk reactions from the 'intelligent' Slashdot crowd, who have never thought any of this through in their entire lives...)

    You must be terribly disappointed with the responses; one agree, one "agree, but...". For my part I'd agree that it's clear that growing plants then eating them is going to be more efficient than growing plants to feed to animals that we then eat, but I think it's more realistic to seek to increase the efficiency of farming animals than just give up on animal products.

    not to mention completely unnatural (you cannot have 6 billion carnivores or omnivores, of the size of human beings, living on a planet the size of Earth) [...] We are not supposed to be carnivores.

    The unnatural part is that there's so many of us, which is enabled primarily by agriculture. Before we started farming, hunting (and the implied eating of meat) was a major source of energy-dense food and we're 'supposed' to be omnivores; we didn't fuel the massive expansion in the size of our brains by eating grass/leaves, bark and roots like the other apes. Fruit has more energy, but it's not the most dependable food if you're foraging rather than farming.

    Now that we do have agriculture, maybe we could survive quite well on plants alone, but that's the result of a few thousand years of improving farming methods and selective breeding. The hundreds of thousands or millions of years of evolution prior to that have set us up as omnivores, not vegans, and therein lies the flaw in your plans - generally speaking, any idea to improve society that requires people to act against their nature isn't going to work out, no matter how much sense it might make that things would be better if they did. See also communism ("Let's share" is nice enough, but people don't work that way en masse).

    Hell, even while agreeing that it would be more efficient to just farm plants for food, I'm thinking that I don't want to give up meat... it tastes really good and I like eating it. That in itself is something of a demonstration that we're designed to eat the stuff; if we weren't built that way then why would so many of us want to carry on eating it?

  • by tronicum (617382) * on Thursday May 20, 2010 @06:53AM (#32277076)
    Well, you probably dont want to have your servers depending on cows (or any other animals). There are some circumstances that they will fail:
    • animal disease (e.g. mad cow disease). government might order to kill them to spread its growth.
    • crop failure, crop prices. cows depend on food, if a crop failure/desease happens, crop prices will go up, so will be their food, as probably their poo as well.

    Beside that, bio-energy does not count the CO needed for stuffing the animal with food, so you might to count all the chemicals, fuel and machinery a farmer will use to grow that animal into account.
    Given those unreliableness, you would have to have a long time backup energy for that (like it would take time to get new, uninfected animals in case of an disease).

    That given in account I would'nt go for poo-energy and stay with an alternative mix of green energy.

  • Re:Wait... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 20, 2010 @09:31AM (#32279058)

    What do you think they do with the cows once they've collected their manure? Throw them in a ditch? No, we eat them.

    Raising cattle is something we do anyway, something we do to live. Manure is a waste product of an already established system, they're just trying to find more ways to make use of a pre-existing unwanted by-product. You /could/ use the energy, used to raise livestock, directly to power your servers... or you could have food to keep you alive.

    So no, it's not more economical if we all starve.

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