Microsoft has launched a pilot project to pair a data center powered by fuel cells with a wastewater treatment plant. Microsoft has been hinting at doing this for a long time and the need to bring data centers closer to a source of biogas (natural gas generated from sewage and the anaerobic breakdown of waste) is a key part of actually making fuel cells renewable sources of power. Right now, almost all deployed fuel cells run on natural gas which must be drilled for (hydraulic fracturing) and winds up emitting CO2 when later combusted. If the source is biogas, that biogas is formed by first removing CO2 from the atmosphere.
The project will cost $8 million and Microsoft has pointed out that one nice thing about puting a data center next to a wastewater treatment plant is that wastewater treatment plants are often located in cities. Putting data centers near cities means lower latency rates to serve all that data to larger urban populations. It’s an 18 month project and Microsoft says that afterward it will turn over the data center to the local university. If nothing else, Microsoft deserves kudos for being the first to try pairing data centers with a local source for biogas.