Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Yes, we'll have no biogas

Cows and computers, or rather, cow manure and fuel for technology: not quite “perfect together” as New Jersey’s old slogan had it, but at least a symbiotic relationship in the making.

A research paper produced by Hewlett-Packard engineers indicates that dairy farmers could rent out land (for computing centers, increasingly built in rural areas) and power (from their cows’ manure) – thereby addressing two problems in the process.

The average cow reportedly “makes enough waste per day to power a 100-watt light bulb,” according to a NYTimes story earlier this month. If that’s the case, then 10,000 cows could fuel a one-megawatt data center – the equivalent of a small computing center used by a bank.

To do this, the manure must first be turned into something called “biogas,” produced by specialized equipment. Already, some dairy farmers are selling their manure to a shared biogas producer. A cow manure cooperative?

Before this whole thing goes much further, a modest proposal: drink less cow milk, eat less cow meat and raise fewer cows. Those three steps would result in healthier humans and happier cows. (Spent milk-giving cows do go to the slaughter house, you know. And their skin turns up in high fashion handbags and shoes. They don’t give milk and make manure indefinitely.)

And if some computer centers must go begging for power, that’s OK too. We can all use more fresh air.

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