HP Labs has conducted research into how the methane captured from cow manure could be used to generate electricity and power data centres.

Bruno Zago, environmental manager for HP EMEA, released details of the report at a HP Sustainability conference in Milan this week.

"Cows produce about 20 tonnes of manure per annum, which produces a substantial amount of methane. This is a gas we can actually use to power a generator to make electricity," said Zago.

"HP Labs has come up with this idea of using the manure, which goes into an anaerobic digester to ferment and capture the methane. The methane then goes through a plant and turns water into steam, which then drives a generator, and that energy is then used to power a data centre.

"Finally, the heat produced by the servers then goes back into the anaerobic digester, which requires heat to ferment the manure."

Zago admitted that this was still "blue sky" thinking on HP's part and it was a challenge to scale up the solution to provide enough electricity to power a data centre.

He said: "It's still very much a concept, but it can work in the future.

"The hard thing is producing enough electricity, about one megawatt for a datacentre, which would require about 10,000 cows.

He added: "Unfortunately most farms only have between 1,000 and 5,000 cows, which isn't enough. You could possibly make up the difference with methane produced elsewhere, but again scaling up the operation and finding a supplier is difficult."

The HP Sustainability conference is currently on tour and will be heading to Prague and Marrakesh this week to cover the whole EMEA region.