Microsoft to debut sewage-powered data center

With the world's leading IT companies rushing to develop renewable energy projects to power their giant data centers, Microsoft might be about to take the prize for the most unlikely clean power source – sewage.

U.S. firm FuelCell Energy this week revealed it is working with the IT giant on a trial that could see biogas from a wastewater treatment facility in Wyoming utilized by a fuel cell, providing "ultra-clean and carbon-neutral electricity" to a Microsoft data center.

The initial trial will see one of FuelCell Energy's 200kW Direct FuelCell (DFC) systems deployed at the Dry Creek Water Reclamation Facility in Cheyenne, Wyo. early next year. The system will then provide power to a modular Microsoft data center, set up to resemble a standard data center environment. Any electricity not used by the data center will be used to help power the water treatment plant, while the system will also provide usable heat for the facility.

Gregg McKnight, general manager for data center advanced development at Microsoft, said that with the company having recently committed to becoming "carbon neutral" by 2013 it was committed to exploring the viability of a wide range of renewable energy sources.

"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," he said in a statement. "We're excited by the potential for using stationary fuel cells to capture and recycle natural byproducts like biogas. This project will study methods to provide an economical and reliable power supply for data centers that is also scalable and economical for use by other industries."

Image of biogas plant from the air provided by visdia via Shutterstock