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

The small demonstration project in Wyoming will run a series of compute-intensive research and modeling applications for the local university.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

(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


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