By Ariel Schwartz
When you upload your data to a cloud service, it doesn't go to some magical place in the sky. It goes to an energy-sucking data center. Big companies are trying to reduce their carbon center footprints, with Google acting as one of the leaders of the pack. Now Microsoft has announced that it's building the world's first zero carbon data center. And it's powered by sewage.
The $5.5 million "Data Plant" will be constructed in the Wyoming hills, where it will run on methane generated by people in the surrounding area. The methane will come from--you guessed it--sewage, which in this case will be broken down by specialized microorganisms. A methane-powered molten carbonate fuel cell at the Dry Creek Water Reclamation Facility in Cheyenne will keep power on at the data center, while CO2 created during the process will be captured for reuse.
This isn't the first data center run on biogas. But as Microsoft explains in a blog post, it is the first to directly connect a biogas source:
There are examples of fuel cell powered data centers from 'directed' biogas. In these systems, natural gas is used to power the fuel cell on site, while biogas is injected into a natural gas pipeline somewhere else on the natural gas pipeline. This injection may occur within miles of the facility, or it may be on the other side of the country. This Data Plant pilot will be the first direct integration of a data center with a biogas source. It will lessen the need for high quality biogas filtration and reduces the demand on the natural gas pipeline.
Microsoft has been criticized before for its data center practices. The New York Times recently discovered that the company was wasting boatloads of energy at a Washington data center in order to avoid a $210,000 penalty for overestimating power use.
Copyright 2012 by Fast Company. Reprinted with permission.