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Microsoft Uncovers Special Bond Between Computers and Toilets

• Robert McMillan via WIRED.com
 

After years of careful research, Microsoft has uncovered the data center’s long-lost cousin: the sewage treatment plant.

On Monday, the software giant announced that it will invest $5.5 million in a futuristic data center — called the Data Plant — that will be completely powered by methane harvested from the Dry Creek Water Reclamation Facility in Cheyenne, Wyoming. That’s right, it will convert poop into computing power.

The 200-kilowatt Data Plant will operate without help from the local power grid. To date, other outfits have set up their own biogas fuel plants to help power their data centers — and reduce their dependance on “dirtier” and less-efficient power sources — but in order to run these plants, they typically import methane that’s been processed elsewhere. The Cheyenne Data Plan “will be the first direct integration of a data center with a biogas source,” Microsoft said in a blog post.

“In a sense, wastewater treatment plants can be considered distant cousins of data centers,” wrote Sean James, a program manager with Microsoft’s Data Center Advanced Development Group. “They are mission-critical facilities with high-availability infrastructure built into the plant. These plants cannot go offline any more than a community can stop flushing.”

To build the Data Plant, Microsoft will drop down one of its modular data centers at the wastewater plant next to a 300-kilowatt fuel cell from a company called FuelCell Energy. The plant will filter out contaminants from the methane accumulated at the Dry Creek Facility and then use it to power the fuel cell. Any excess energy will be directed back to the treatment facility.

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