Microsoft Uses Fuel Cell, Biogas to Power Data Center Energy Research Project

by | Nov 21, 2012

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Microsoft’s data center research project in Cheyenne, Wyoming, will be powered by a fuel cell power plant from FuelCell Energy.

The power plant will utilize renewable biogas generated by a wastewater treatment facility as the fuel source.

This sub-megawatt power plant project enables Microsoft to evaluate the effectiveness of fuel cells and on-site biogas to power future sustainable data centers.

The sub-megawatt Direct Fuel Cell (DFC) power plant will be installed at the Dry Creek Water Reclamation Facility in Cheyenne by Spring 2013. The fuel cell plant will provide 200 KW of power for Microsoft’s Data Plant, housed in a modular IT pre-assembled component with servers to recreate a data center environment. Excess power not used by the data center will be provided to the water reclamation facility to offset its electric costs. In the event of a grid outage, the Data Plant project and fuel cell plant will be configured to operate independently to provide continuous power.

A diverse coalition of entities is participating in bringing the project to fruition, including the Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities, Cheyenne Light, Fuel and Power Company, Western Research Institute, the University of Wyoming, the Wyoming Business Council, and Cheyenne LEADS, the economic development organization for Cheyenne and Laramie County.

The city of Cheyenne applied for a $1.5 million Community Readiness grant through the Wyoming Business Council’s Business Ready Communities program earlier this year to fund the needed infrastructure to support the Data Plant project. The application is on the December agenda for the Wyoming State Loan and Investment Board for a final decision.

In May 2012, Microsoft announced its commitment to become carbon neutral beginning in 2013. Reliable on-site power generation that is environmentally-friendly is a key consideration for Microsoft as it evaluates energy generation for its data centers, which power the company’s cloud services and support more than 1 billion customers and 20 million businesses globally.

Stationary DFC power plants convert a fuel source into electricity and usable high temperature heat suitable for making steam. DFC plants are fuel flexible, capable of operating on natural gas, biogas and other fuels, including propane. The fuel cell generates electricity and heat electrochemically. Due to the absence of combustion, there is almost a complete absence of nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SOx) and particulate matter.

DFC plants can be located where biogas is generated and directly use the biogas with only minimal cleaning of the gas. Biogas contains humidity, sulfur and carbon dioxide (CO2). Prior to being used as a fuel source for the Direct Fuel Cell, the humidity and sulfur must be removed, but the DFC technology does not require the removal of the CO2. This saves money as pipeline quality biogas, also termed directed biogas, must have the CO2 removed prior to being injected in the gas pipeline, which is an energy-intensive process and adds cost.

In October, FuelCell Energy announced it had brought online a 2.8 MW fuel cell power plant at a wastewater facility in southern California. The biogas from the facility will help power the facility.

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