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We'll Always Have Waste

F.Y. Teng | Aug. 3, 2010
A discussion of the reality of data centres powered by manure from dairy cows, and the potential of human waste as a renewable source of energy.

So thats inside the data centre. We also envisaged a supply side micro grid with multiple sources. For example, the sun may be one source, the wind may be another source, biomass would be another source…

In the supply-and-demand-sides context, what we wanted to do was to find a symbiotic relationship. So we had to answer questions such as: How can I use the heat from the data centre to help my energy supply? And how can I use the waste generated from my energy supply to help the data centre? When we started to do that, many ideas started to emerge.

Where are we today? We are looking for synergies between supply and demand. One of the things that I have been asked continually, ever since we started work in data centres, is, What do we do with the waste heat in the data centre?

I am always asked, Chandrakanth, can you do something with the waste heat?

The problem with the waste heat from the data centre is that its at low temperatures in the range of 45-50 degrees Celsius, so looking for the right match for it was trick. Then we found the right match for it. When we started to look at biogas from manure, we recognised that we could use the waste heat from the data centre to aid anaerobic digestion, particularly in certain areas where this would be very useful. This would result in methane production, and the methane could then be used by a reciprocating engine to generate electricity.

Then we also have waste heat from the engine, which is at a temperature that can be used with absorption refrigeration cycle or in other processes. That absorption refrigeration cycle can be part of the data centre too.

So you see the linkage between the data centre and the biogas productionits very clear. That excited us. Heres a great opportunity and its an age old technology. We used to use this in our village in India.

Biogas has been around for a long time.

We asked: What is a prolific producer of biogas and where can we get it?

Thats when it occurred to usdairy cows. The dairy cows in pasture, the manure produced by dairy cows is a lot of available energy

And so when we wrote our paper we felt that co-location of data centres with dairy farms would be appropriate. So we did a case in which we used 10,000 cows. This number of cows can power in 1 Megawatt data centre.

We also envisaged a microgrid where wed have biogases as one source, solar as another source maybe, and a non-renewable source, such as a diesel generator. In other words, the data centre would have multiple sources.

 

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