Microsoft and UW officially open biogas project

Microsoft and the University of Wyoming (UW) have officially opened their zero emission green data centre that is fuelled by methane biogas and allows the university to run computing and modelling applications from the Laramie campus.

A cable-cutting ceremony for the Cheyenne Biogas Power Plant, which is located at the Dry Creek Water Reclamation Facility, was scheduled for 6 November. The data centre is powered by a fuel cell that generates electricity by electro-chemically converting biogas emitted from the treatment plant.

'The final stage of experiments is set to get underway at the data centre,' says Jim Caldwell, associate professor and head of UW's Department of Computer Science. 'The cable cutting is really the opening of the completed facility.'

In addition to the benefits of UW running high-performance computing applications, the project is a proof of concept for a zero-emission data centre that will allow Microsoft to cut company costs and reduce CO2 emissions by using renewable energy. Microsoft hopes the small-scale energy project model can eventually be used at the company's other data centres.

'Our objective is to transform the energy supply chain of our data centres toward greater efficiency and reduced environmental impact,' adds Christian Belady, Microsoft's GM of Datacenter Services. 'By bringing together the power plant with the data centre, we are actually simplifying the power distribution infrastructure and improving efficiency in the distribution of power. This is an important investment as Microsoft continues to pursue energy efficiency and clean energy products.'

Valued at approximately $7.6 million (€6 million) and dubbed the Data Plant, the mini-data centre was built by Microsoft to replicate a data centre environment. The plant's 300kW fuel cell -- in a waste to power setup -- will be powered by methane biogas produced from wastewater at the Dry Creek Water Reclamation Facility. The fuel cell, provided by Fuel Cell Energy, in turn, provides about 200kW of energy to power the Data Plant's 200 computer servers. Excess electricity from the fuel cell will be delivered back to the wastewater treatment plant to reduce its electrical bills.

The State Loan and Investment Board approved a $1.5 million Wyoming Business Council Business Ready Community grant request for the city of Cheyenne in 2012 to help fund the $7.6 million plant. Microsoft covered the remaining cost.

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