Microsoft plans to use a stationary fuel cell power plant from FuelCell Energy, Inc to support it’s latest data centre research project. The power plant will use renewable biogas from a wastewater treatment facility as the fuel source to generate carbon-neutral electricity.
It’s a 200 kilowatts installation that will be used with a modular data centre to test the effectiveness of using on-site biogas. Power not used by the data centre will go to the water reclamation facility to offset the electricity costs.
Fuel cell power plants convert a fuel source into clean electricity using a variety of fuels, including clean sources such as biogas. The fuel cell generates electricity and heat electrochemically and, since there is no combustion, emissions are low, with very little nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SOx) or particulate matter.
"With the demand for renewable energy resources outstripping available power supplies today, Microsoft is researching new methods to help our operations become more efficient and environmentally sustainable," said Gregg McKnight, general manager, Data Centre Advanced Development at Microsoft.
Review: The use of fuel cells has been much in the news recently. Just last week Nokia Siemens Networks announced that it was developing a base station site with integrated fuel cell that can continue to operate during power blackouts.
Since various fuels can be used with fuel cells, the extent of their sustainability varies, but they are based on chemical reaction, so at least no fuel is burned.
The Microsoft comment is particularly apt, though. There isn’t enough renewable energy in the grid system in most countries, which means that to be truly low-carbon, on-site generation, in some form or another, is the most effective solution. If your data centre is in the right place, where solar, wind or wave power are available then so much the better. But if the Microsoft project pays off we may well see data centres increasingly located next to sewage works!