What about Biomass to Fuel Data Centers?

I have covered renewable energy sources, namely wind, solar and geothermal in my previous blogs elsewhere.

Looking at the power generation breakdown among renewable energies, Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports the breakdown and its distribution as follows (unit: thousand MWh in 2008):

  • Wind: 34,450
  • Solar: 612
  • Wood and Wood derived: 39,014
  • Geothermal: 14,637
  • Other Biomass: 16.525
  • Total: 105,238

In the EIA report, power generated by wood and wood type is separated from other biomass, while some, such as Wikipedia, combines this type with the rest of biomass.

    Biomass, a renewable energy source, is biological material derived from living, or recently living organisms,[1] such as wood, waste, and alcohol fuels. Biomass is commonly plant matter grown to generate electricity or produce heat. For example, forest residues (such as dead trees, branches and tree stumps), yard clippings and wood chips may be used as biomass. However, biomass also includes plant or animal matter used for production of fibers or chemicals. Biomass may also include biodegradable wastes that can be burnt as fuel. It excludes organic material such as fossil fuel which has been transformed by geological processes into substances such as coal or petroleum.”

In my previous blog, we saw more solar powered data centers than wind powered ones.
But in reality, wind generates more power than solar, and appears to be suitable for powering data centers. This observation is reinforced by the EIA breakdown, and the power by wind is more than 30 times more that by solar. Also, biomass generates about 1/2 of the power of that by wind. And if wood and wood-type is combined with the rest of biomass, then the power generated will be more than that by wind (52% vs. 33%).

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What about the power generated by biomass for data centers? I searched some examples of biomass-generated power for data centers but I could not find many. Rich Miller, DatacenterKnowledge, reported in his blog that Emerson installed a 100-kilowatt solar panel array on its data center. In the comment section, someone mentioned the availability of power generated by biomass as 20 tons of “biowaste” produces 3 mWh a day. Other than that, I see another example in Miller’s another blog regarding the power generated by biomass for Internet Villages International (IVI) in Scottland.

“Plans call for the IVI data centers to use electricity from a nearby biomass plant at Steven’s Croft operated by E-On UK (Powergen) and local wind farms. Local weather makes the area a prospect for using outside air to cool the servers (air-side economization). Waste heat from the data center buildings may be used to heat a nearby residential development.”

Zen Kishimoto

About Zen Kishimoto

Seasoned research and technology executive with various functional expertise, including roles in analyst, writer, CTO, VP Engineering, general management, sales, and marketing in diverse high-tech and cleantech industry segments, including software, mobile embedded systems, Web technologies, and networking. Current focus and expertise are in the area of the IT application to energy, such as smart grid, green IT, building/data center energy efficiency, and cloud computing.


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