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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.

One of the advantages of IT is we can now put a lot of computing in a small container sized data centre. It is relatively easy to put a lot of computing in a single building block as a container. And high-speed access Internet is also going far and wide. So it is conceivable for us to reach areas we couldnt get to before.

So people saw the possibility and they liked it. After the paper went out, we received a tremendous positive response from different directions. We have even had people who build digesters call us to collaborate. And they feel that our proposition in the paper is totally possible.

Are you already working at building one then?
Not yet. Weve designed one and Im trying to see places where we can do it. You see, we operate in two different ways. HPwe sell our systems and also our data centre services to our customers. So one thing Im trying to look for is a customer who has an interest for whom we could built a pilot project version of the kind of data centres were talking about. We are also looking to see if we need it for our own usage. We dont have a concrete project yet but we are certainly looking.

Best case scenario, in the next 12 months what do you see will happen in terms of the development of the respective technologies behind this data centre model?
I think with respect to the individual components.

The biogas plants were first used in India in the 1930s and 1950s.

So in terms of components like the anaerobic digester, they are all available today. All the component level things exist. Really, the challenge is systemic integration. How do we integrate IT and the other technologies involved here? How do we work out the business model? Both these questions can be answered. Its only a matter of somebody wanting to work on them.

If I were asked to predict when this will happen, Id say this really depends on the particular business case. If I were to think of delivering a service at a given price point, I would be trying to make the case based on economics, not on being green.

Being green in my mind gets us to the lowest cost. I always equate sustainability to lowest cost. So what we would do is for a particular business model, make sure that the approach of thinking supply and demand side management does result in an economically viable model with a quick payback.

We estimate a payback period of two years for the farmer who works with us and we propose that the farmer buys the equipment. Thats just a proposed business model. So with that sort of a business model, if a business opportunity presented itself it can easily be done in one, two years. There is no particular sort of obstacle. The two basic challenges are systemic integration and business model viability.


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