Back in April, I wrote about Microsoft's plans to build a zero carbon data center that would be fully powered by the methane from either an onsite landfill or a nearby wastewater treatment plant. The project called the Data Plant would operate as an open lab for sustainable data center practices and show how to marry the concepts of a data center and renewable power plant. At the time, the project was still just in the idea phase and the company had not yet chosen a site to use as a pilot. Now the plans are a bit more concrete.
Microsoft has chosen a location in Cheyenne, Wyoming where its pilot data center can be powered by the Dry Creek Water Reclamation Facility. A blog post at Microsoft's Global Foundation site says, "By capturing and reusing biogas on premise with our data centers, we will be able to significantly reduce their carbon emissions while producing beneficial uses at the same time. This project will study new methods for providing a stable, clean, scalable, and economically efficient power source for data centers that could become a best practice for use by other industries in the future as well."
Microsoft has chosen FuelCell Energy, Inc. to supply the fuel cell technology that will power the Data Plant with biogas. FuelCell's press release states, "The fuel cell plant will provide 200 kilowatts of power for Microsoft's Data Plant which will be housed in a modular IT pre-assembled component (ITPAC) that will house servers to recreate a data center environment. Excess power not used by the data center will be provided to the water reclamation facility to offset their electric costs. In the event of a grid outage, the Data Plant project and fuel cell plant will be configured to operate independently to provide continuous power."
Some of the benefits of this concept of locating a data center right at the source of biogas include an efficient way to turn waste into power without the need for biogas pipelines, the ability to recycle waste heat from the fuel cells back to the anaerobic digesters to improve their efficiency, and the opening up of possible data center locations.
Microsoft is spending $5.5 million in R&D for this project. The energy production and the energy needs of the servers will be on a smaller scale than a full data center, but should hopefully supply plenty of information on how to utilize this type of set up on a larger scale.
The plans still have to be approved by the Wyoming State Loan and Investment Board, but if so, the FuelCell will be installed at the Dry Creek facility in Spring 2013.