Press Release: May 19, 2010

HP Labs Designs Data Center Fueled by Manure

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

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- HPtoday presented new research from HP Labs, the company’s centralresearch arm, showing how the manure output of cows and the heatoutput of data centers can be combined to create an economicallyand environmentally sustainable operation.

In a research paper presented at the ASME InternationalConference on Energy Sustainability in Phoenix, Ariz., the HPresearchers explain how a farm of 10,000 dairy cows could fulfillthe power requirements of a 1-megawatt (MW) data center – theequivalent of a medium-sized data center – with power left over tosupport other needs on the farm.

In this process, the heatgenerated by the data center can be used to increase the efficiencyof the anaerobic digestion of animal waste. This results in theproduction of methane, which can be used to generate power for thedata center. This symbiotic relationship allows the waste problemsfaced by dairy farms and the energy demands of the modern datacenter to be addressed in a sustainable manner.


Dairy farms and datacenters may appear to be unexpected partners; however, HP Labs hasshown that the specific needs and challenges of both can be alignedto create a sustainable life cycle, using technologies readilyavailable today.

  • The average dairy cow produces about 55 kg (120 pounds) ofmanure per day, and approximately 20 metric tons per year – roughlyequivalent to the weight of four adult elephants.
  • The manure that one dairy cow produces in a day can generate3.0 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electrical energy, which is enough topower television usage in three U.S. households perday.(1)
  • A medium-sized dairy farm with 10,000 cows produces about200,000 metric tons of manure per year. Approximately 70 percent ofthe energy in the methane generated via anaerobic digestion couldbe used for data center power and cooling, thus reducing the impacton natural resources.
  • Pollutants from unmanaged livestock waste degrade theenvironment and can lead to groundwater contamination and airpollution. Methane is 21 times more damaging to the environmentthan carbon dioxide, which means that in addition to being aninefficient use of energy, disposal of manure through flaring canresult in steep greenhouse gas emission taxes.
  • In addition to benefiting the environment, using manure togenerate power for data centers could provide financial benefit tofarmers. HP researchers estimate that dairy farmers would breakeven in costs within the first two years of using a system likethis and then earn roughly $2 million annually in revenue fromselling waste-derived power to data center customers. 

Changing the energyequation

HP is working to transformthe way in which businesses and societies organize and operate bychanging the way energy is consumed and produced, thereby creatingmore sustainable ecosystems. HP Labs is committed to designing datacenters that are substantially more efficient and use local,renewable energy resources.

Contemporary data centersare increasingly co-located with power generation or coolingresources to reduce operational costs. Power generation microgridscan take advantage of a variety of local power generation optionsto reduce the dependence on the utility grid for power. Microgridscan employ solar cells, wind turbines, biofuels or other sources,many of which are renewable, to generate electricity used to powerdata centers. The prevalence of dairy farms in the United Statespresents a co-location opportunity that generates biofuel from farmwaste.


“The idea of using animalwaste to generate energy has been around for centuries, with manurebeing used every day in remote villages to generate heat forcooking. The new idea that we are presenting in this research is tocreate a symbiotic relationship between farms and the IT ecosystemthat can benefit the farm, the data center and theenvironment.”

  • Tom Christian, principal research scientist, Sustainable ITEcosystem Lab, HP


  • Illustrationof the symbiotic relationship between the farm and data center
  • Article about farm waste-powered data center design from the HPLabs website
  • Videoof Chandrakant Patel of HP Labs explaining the research
  • HP Labs presentation at the ASME International Conference on EnergySustainability
  • More information on the HPSustainable IT Ecosystem Lab

ChandrakantPatel of HP Labs explains the research

More information on HP’swork in innovating forthe environment


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(1) Based onmost recent average household power consumption statistics from theU.S. Energy Information Association.

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