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Earlier this year our colleagues in Global Foundation Services shared a concept for what they called a Data Plant, a fuel cell-powered data center designed to run on biogas generated from landfills or water treatment plants. That concept will soon come off the drawing board in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where Microsoft is partnering with the city of Cheyenne, the University of Wyoming and Fuel Cell Energy to build the first zero carbon data center that will be completely independent of the grid and will not rely on natural gas. Located next to a water treatment plant, the 200KW data center will turn waste into data.
The data center will operate from energy generated from biogas, which will be used to power fuel cells made by Connecticut-based Fuel Cell Energy. The biogas used to power the facility is a byproduct of waste from the water treatment plant. By locating a modular data center next to the treatment plant, we can closely match the size of the data center with the amount of available fuel. You can read a detailed description of how the data center will work on the GFS Blog. That post goes into detail on how biogas works as a renewable resource without adding CO2 into the environment.
While the Cheyenne project is still at a very early stage, we’re confident that it will lay the groundwork for additional innovations in creating low- and no-carbon data centers. Water treatment plants pair well with data centers because they’re both ‘always on’: Treatment plants because a community has water needs throughout a 24-hour day, and data centers because of constant online activity. These facilities will have the potential to change how the technology industry supports the cloud, giving us more flexibility in locating data centers by making it possible to take a data center off the electric grid altogether.
In just the last five years Microsoft has led the way in making data centers more energy efficient. We see this project in Cheyenne as the next logical step of rethinking how we power data centers. It’s a sign that the industry will be able to continue delivering on its promise to continue innovating data center designs so that the cloud has a significantly lower impact on the environment.