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Microsoft isn’t too keen on letting crap go to waste.
The Redmond, Washington-based software giant has announced that it will soon be testing a modular data center ran on biogas from wastewater.
The development was first noticed by Technology Review in a report that says Microsoft “has gotten approval to test a modular data center run from a biogas-powered fuel cell located at a wastewater treatment plant in Cheyenne, Wyoming.”
According to the publication, local officials have agreed to an 18-month test run for the project named Data Plant.
Microsoft said in its announcement that:
“Microsoft is investing approximately $5.5 million in R&D on this pilot project for developing sustainable data centers. The project will be located at the Dry Creek Water Reclamation Facility in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It provides an exciting, first-of-its kind opportunity to develop viable capabilities and best practices for capturing and reusing natural bi-products like biogas directly from wastewater treatment plants, agricultural farms, fuel refineries, and waste landfill sites, etc. in the future. In general, biogas fuel sources are typically uneconomical to recover and convert to grid energy and are usually flared-off. 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.”
Calling it an “ambitious project”, Sean James, Microsoft Senior Research Program Manager for Data Center Advanced Development, says that the project will not only produce power for a Microsoft data center.
He says it will also produce CO2 in such high qualities that it can be captured and reused in industrial applications.
“In other words, this Data Plant will be turning a pollutant into a valuable commodity by capturing and transporting it for use by the marketplace,” he writes.
He lists the following advantages of the project:
- Captured and redirected a greenhouse gas (methane) for productive use.
- Generated electricity with that gas through a highly-efficient fuel cell that results in significantly reducing the CO2 per unit of power produced than power purchased from the grid.
- Reused the waste heat from the system to improve the efficiency and further reduce the amount of energy loss per unit of power produced.
In a question-and-answer type section of the announcement, James answers the question “Why a wastewater treatment plant?”
He says, “In a sense, wastewater treatment plants can be considered distant cousins of data centers – they are mission critical facilities with high availability infrastructure built into the plant. These plants cannot go offline any more than a community can stop flushing. The result ensures a very consistent and reliable flow of biogas to power our Data Plant.”
He also says they chose Wyoming because Microsoft saw that the community needs more renewable energy sources and because of existing demand from the state’s industries for clean CO2.
Images from jumpingspider on Flickr (CC)
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