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November 19, 2012

Microsoft Experimental Data Center To Use Biogas Fuel From Nearby Waste Water Treatment Plant

Biogas will be drawn directly from treatment plant in Cheyenne, Wyoming to power fuel cells.

Microsoft's latest data center is actually a “Data Plant.” Microsoft Senior Research Project Manager Sean James describes the experimental project as “a symbiotic relationship between a water plant and data center.” The Cheyenne, Wyoming facility will be the first data center to tap waste biogas directly from the facility that produces it. The biogas will power fuel cells, which will provide all the energy facility needs. 

Of course, it's a very small facility. It fits into a 10 foot by 20 foot container and will draw just 200kW. It is being installed right next to the Dry Creek Wastewater Reclamation Facility in Cheyenne, where an automated system will collect, clean and pipe the waste methane directly to a fuel cell, the only power source for the container. 

James described the concept to Katie Fehrenbacker for an article in GigaOm. FuelCell Energy will provide the 300kW fuel cell. The entire Data Plant (minus the wastewater treatment facility) will cost $8 million, of which Microsoft will pay $5.5 million. The article does not say who is paying the rest. Neither does it say which or how many servers it will run. 

The company expects the system to help it come up with more innovative and greener ways to power its other data centers and to cut its reliance on power from the grid. If the project works, it may try to build more micro data centers at other water treatment facilities, and perhaps use the concepts learned to fuel larger data centers. Microsoft Utility Architect Brian Janous says that water treatment plants are generally good locations for data centers anyway, since they're near densely populated areas. James described the concept to Katie Fehrenbacker for an article in GigaOm. FuelCell Energy will provide the 300kW fuel cell. The entire Data Plant (minus the wastewater treatment facility) will cost $8 million, of which Microsoft will pay $5.5 million. The article does not say who is paying the rest. Neither does it say which or how many servers it will run. 

The Data Plant is scheduled to be up and running in spring of 2013. After an 18-month test run, Microsoft will turn it over to a local university for more experimentation on how to scale it up. 

Still, it will take an awfully big treatment plant to provide enough gas for a data center like, say, the 198 megawatt facility Microsoft runs in Chicago. 

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