Microsoft plans biogas-fueled data center that runs off the grid

Microsoft plans biogas-fueled data center that runs off the grid

Summary: The small demonstration project in Wyoming will run a series of compute-intensive research and modeling applications for the local university.


(Updated to reflect total investment in project)

Is it possible to run data centers entirely off the traditional electrical grid?

Starting in March 2013, Microsoft plans to test its "Data Plant" concept with a small modular demonstration installation in Cheyenne, Wyoming, that will get its power from biogas created at a local wastewater treatment plant.

The $5.5 million project – backed by an investment from Microsoft and money from other funding sources including a city grant – will use the gas created with an anaerobic digester at the Dry Creek Water Reclamation Facility to power a 300-kilowatt fuel cell from FuelCell Energy.

The cell will run a series of high-performance computing and modeling applications being used by the University of Wyoming, which is participating in the 18-month research initiative, said Sean James, senior research manager for the Microsoft Data Center team.

The load of the modular data center is about 200 kilowatts, James said.

"In general, biogas fuel sources are typically uneconomical to recover and convert to grid energy and are usually flared-off," writes James in a blog about the project. "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 also plans to test its "data furnace" concept – heat created by the data center will be funneled back into the treatment plant to keep the microbes used in water treatment heated to the appropriate temperature, James said.

The overall goal of the test will focus on producing data about the following:

1)   How to transform a liability into an asset by using waste to power a carbon-neutral data center

2)   Efficiency metrics that can be achieved by reusing waste heat

3)   How this technology might affect where data centers are sited in the future

At the end of the project, the technology will be donate to the city of Cheyenne and University of Wyoming for future research.

Here are some more resources related to Microsoft's ongoing research into data center efficiency and clean power sources.

10 ways to make your data center greener ala Microsoft

Data Center as furnace? Microsoft researchers explore idea



Microsoft Dat Plant


Topics: Data Centers, Emerging Tech

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  • Resiliance

    Microsoft are arguably the first tech company to take resilience so seriously.
    Tim Acheson
  • Or just maybe...

    ...they could burn DVDs of Windows 8.
    • That did require a moment's pause

      You mean "burn" as in combust/incinerate, and not "record" as in a DVD burner?

      Clever and funny, but the MS fan boys will hate you for it.
      • No Burning... It's call electrolysis

        A fuel cell is a device that converts the chemical energy from a fuel into electricity through a chemical reaction with oxygen or another oxidizing agent. Wikipedia
        Mickey Irish
  • Not clear at all

    "Off the grid" is VERY different from "producing more than you consume". An off the grid operation would require power supply redundancy/stability features that would increase the cost considerably. Not sure why ANYBODY would want to do that unless absolutely necessary.

    Are you sure this is correct?
  • LOL

    Microsoft has been fueled by Bio-gas for a long time!
  • Microsoft is doing it right using BioGas! Truly a renewable system

    Wanted to share a 2.8MW municipal waste water treatment plant in California that is already up and running. This is really fantastic that Microsoft is doing this. In my opinion of course.

    2.8MW fuel cell using biogas now operating; Largest PPA of its kind in North America

    also found this...

    (video link below)

    "New fuel cell sewage gas station in Orange County, CA may be world's first"

    "It is here today and it is deployable today," said Tom Mutchler of Air Products and Chemicals Inc., a sponsor and developer of the project.
    Mickey Irish