What’s up with Google and biomass power?

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Out of all of Google’s close to $1 billion in clean power projects, turning biomass into energy seems like the least relevant technology to Google’s core business. But Google has made a few small investments into biofuels and biomass to energy projects including a venture investment into CoolPlanetBiofuels earlier this year, and one I learned about this week: a project that turns waste from hog farms into electricity in North Carolina.

The article about the hog waste project, which was published in the Los Angeles Times, says Google invested part of the $1.2 million it cost to build the project that uses bacteria to digest hog poop, burn methane to produce electricity and convert ammonia into nitrogen for fertilizer. Duke University and the farmer Loyd Bryant were the other financiers of the system.

The article notes Google has a data center nearby, and Google will earn carbon offset credits from the system. Like some of Google’s other clean power micro investments, the project could be a way for Google to investigate ways to tap into distributed power in local regions, for either its data centers or offices. (There’s no indication this one in North Carolina will be powering anything Google related).

Remember Google was the first customer for Bloom Energy’s fuel cell, which can use biofuel, as well as natural gas and biogas, to produce electricity. Google used the Bloom Energy fuel cells to provide power in a data center test lab. Distributed energy production could be a way for Google to manage and control power costs.

Back when Google invested in CoolPlanetBiofuels, Google Ventures’ Managing Partner, Bill Maris, told me this:

As a company, Google is interested in reducing all aspects of its environmental footprint. As a firm, Google Ventures is interested in contributing to this effort both on Google’s behalf and for the benefit of positive global impact. While petroleum does not constitute a large percentage of Google’s emission profile, we are enthusiastic about supporting technologies that can help us economically reduce our carbon footprint while simultaneously contributing to our domestic energy security.

How do you think Google could use biomass and biofuel projects for its business?

Image courtesy of eutrofication&hypoxia.

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