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Print 21 comment(s) - last by tamalero.. on Nov 22 at 11:48 AM

Software giant looks to power its data center with feces

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) has paired with FuelCell Energy, Inc. (FCEL) to deploy a pretty unusual data center in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

I. From Feces to Fuel

The $5.5M USD data center, funded by Microsoft FuelCell Energy and the State of Wyoming, is attached to the Dry Creek Water Reclamation Facility and takes advantage of the Facility's most abundant resource -- wastewater.

Wastewater in scientific terms is a slew of water, human feces, and other things flushed down the toilet.  When captured filtered, the "solids" slowly outgas carbon dioxide and methane thanks to their population of methane producing bacteria.  When paired with a methane-fuel cell, electricity and heat can be produced from the methane gas.

Smelling a sweet idea, Microsoft plans to do exactly that with its 300 kW cell.  The installation, which also serves as a test of Microsoft's latest modular data centers, will consume 200 kW, feeding the remaining third of the generating capacity to power and heat the wastewater plant.

Fuel cell
A similar 300 kW stack from FuelCell Energy is deployed on the campus of Yale University.
[Image Source: Yale University]

Microsoft research program manager Sean James comments, "A person is consuming data and that person’s waste is going to power the data center.  It’s been a mind shift.  When we smell that methane at a water treatment plant, we realize we’re smelling energy."

II. What a Great Smell You Have Discovered

While some wastewater facilities already harvest and distribute their methane for generative purposes, many simply flare (burn off) the gas.  Microsoft sees its modular "Data Plant" design as potentially a game changer for such "stranded" biogas locations.  

Fuel cells have traditionally been too expensive to consider versus backup fossil fuel generators, such as diesel backup generators (which, coincidentally, Microsoft has been accused of overusing by locals near some of its data centers).  But the reliable alternative power sources are finally dipping to prices where they may make economic sense in locations where methane gas is cheap.

Sewage data loop
Microsoft is excited about making a "circle of life" using data and human feces.

Comments Brian Janous, data center utility architect at Microsoft, “Our expectation that this is cost effective especially as we move out of the U.S. where natural gas is really cheap."

The waste CO2 from the fuel cell can be pumped into local oil wells to extract more oil.

Microsoft is not alone in looking into fuel cells.  Google Inc. (GOOG) showed off a wastewater-coupled data center in 2008.  EBay, Inc. (EBAY) and Apple, Inc. (AAPL) are also investigating fuel cells as a low-emissions way of powering their data centers, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Technology Review Blog.

Overseas South Korean researchers have looked to make fuel from feces, as well, and one Japanese research according to the Associated Press is even investigating making a meat substitute from feces (although the validity of the AP report has been questioned due to the story's similarity to a stunt by Canada's "Yes Men").

Sources: Microsoft, MIT Tech Review



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feces
By Argon18 on 11/20/2012 5:55:17 PM , Rating: 5
That's outstanding news. Microsoft's operating systems are already quite feculent, so it makes sense for them to power their data centres with the same. The next version of Windows ought to be called Windows FP. Feces Powered!




RE: feces
By Brandon Hill (blog) on 11/20/2012 5:59:00 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
feculent


Vocabulary+1


RE: feces
By at80eighty on 11/20/2012 8:09:44 PM , Rating: 4
that should be voted as a 6 just for the word alone


RE: feces
By Integral9 on 11/21/2012 12:09:53 PM , Rating: 1
speaking of vocab:
quote:
...will consume 200 kW...

That's a lot of Doody!


RE: feces
By Integral9 on 11/21/2012 12:18:10 PM , Rating: 1
nvm. your sentence structure just confused the hell out of me. It may have been a run-on, but I am no grammar cop. This made more sense to me though.

The installation, which also serves as a test of Microsoft's latest modular data centers, will consume 200 kW. The remaining third of the generating capacity will be used to power and heat the wastewater plant.


RE: feces
By Mitch101 on 11/21/2012 4:37:38 PM , Rating: 3
This probably wouldn't work at Apple because their Sh1t don't stink.

If only they could harness the power of SMUG.


aha!
By MadMan007 on 11/20/2012 7:20:51 PM , Rating: 2
THIS explains Windows 8!




RE: aha!
By datdamonfoo on 11/20/2012 8:55:41 PM , Rating: 5
Efficient and innovative? Yep, it sure does!


RE: aha!
By Argon18 on 11/21/2012 2:51:52 PM , Rating: 1
I think he meant smelly and confusing.


RE: aha!
By knutjb on 11/21/2012 3:44:17 PM , Rating: 2
Has MS ever released an OS that was loved when released but couldn't be lived without years later?


RE: aha!
By tamalero on 11/22/2012 11:48:07 AM , Rating: 2
yes, its called WINDOWS 7


So.
By SlyNine on 11/20/2012 8:54:10 PM , Rating: 2
So windows 8 might have a use afterall.




RE: So.
By inperfectdarkness on 11/21/2012 2:44:29 AM , Rating: 2
"But I wipe my own ass! I wipe my own ass!!!"


Plug and Play.
By drycrust3 on 11/21/2012 2:29:38 PM , Rating: 2
This fuel cell looks like it is built into a shipping container, which suggests that once the preparatory work is done, the unit arrives on the back of a truck, is unloaded, connected up, and "voilĂ !... lights on!" i.e. this is almost a "Plug and Play" type of system.




RE: Plug and Play.
By Argon18 on 11/21/2012 2:53:14 PM , Rating: 2
I think you're missing a key "ingredient"...


Yo my dude
By estarkey7 on 11/21/2012 3:45:36 AM , Rating: 2
Now that's da shit!




Surely
By Cluebat on 11/21/2012 7:22:34 AM , Rating: 2

This is a tax write-off.




Are you required to poop at work?
By Heinrich on 11/21/2012 7:58:47 AM , Rating: 2
Do you get written up for pooping at home?




Master Blaster
By Motoman on 11/21/2012 10:56:32 AM , Rating: 2
NOT SH1T! ENERGY!




By Integral9 on 11/21/2012 12:04:09 PM , Rating: 2
I know they are hooking it up the waste plant, but for maximum efficiency, M$ should bring in Taco Bell and give out free burrito supremes to their employees for lunch. That should keep the methane generation at it's peak 24/7. Heck, it might even overclock it. :P




Perfect for the TV Ad Campaign
By Aardvark7734 on 11/21/2012 3:33:45 PM , Rating: 2
Smiling consumer:

"Windows 8. I made this."




"Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment -- same piece of hardware -- paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be." -- Steve Ballmer














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