Renewable Biogas Powers Cloud Computing in WY

January 9, 2020

“Data is energy.” That was a key message at the “cable-cutting” dedication of the world’s first “zero-carbon” Data Plant at the Dry Creek Water Reclamation Facility November 6, 2014, in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Data Plant is Microsoft’s term for an integrated data center and independent, self-sustaining power source. The choice to cut a yellow electrical cable instead of the traditional ribbon was to emphasize that the power for the data plant is not dependent on the electrical power grid.

The Cheyenne Data Plant uses biogas from the Dry Creek facility to power a fuel cell from Connecticut-based FuelCell Energy Inc. The fuel cell uses methane, a byproduct, and water to produce electricity to power the servers in the Data Plant.

During the early phases of concept and siting discussions, WRI CEO Don Collins played a role in articulating the benefits of the fuel cell technology to the state and to the city. He also participated in developing the proposal for state funding of the project.

WRI has been continued its involvement in technical aspects of the project, first developing a conceptual framework for process measurements and instrumentation needed to characterize the performance of the fuel cell and data center. WRI is currently a technical advisor to Microsoft, providing data analysis and interpretation of test results.

Microsoft makes a clear connection between data reliability and the obvious dependability of its new power source. The shipping-container-sized experimental data center (the ITPAC) is located next to the sewage treatment plant, and the power needs of the data center are closely matched with the amount of available methane gas.

According to a media release by Siemens (which provided the power monitoring equipment, or “dashboard,” for operating the plant), it is anticipated that the waste-to-energy process will produce 300 kilowatts of renewable power, and the Data Plant will use approximately 200 kilowatts. The excess electricity will be sent back to the waste treatment facility to contribute to its power supply.

Microsoft calls the fuel cell powered Data Plant “a milestone in [its] ongoing efforts to pursue carbon neutrality through innovative, sustainable energy investments.” Governor Matt Mead said the state expects to gain substantial benefits from being the site for the world’s first zero-carbon data center—not the least of which is greater recognition of Wyoming as a prime location for advanced technology.

Organizations responsible for bringing the project to fruition include the Cheyenne Board of Utilities, Cheyenne Light, Fuel and Power Company, Western Research Institute, the University of Wyoming, the Wyoming Business Council, Siemens, Cheyenne LEADS (the economic development organization for Cheyenne and Laramie County), Microsoft, and FuelCell Energy, Inc.