Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"Creating science from sewage" is one benefit of new Cheyenne zero-carbon Data Plant

Science! It's a gas -- biogas, that is. The City of Cheyenne and UW and Microsoft and Fuel Cell Energy Inc. are building a pilot project east of Cheyenne to see if methane produced from sewage treatment can provide efficient zero-carbon power. A $7.5 million Microsoft Data Plant is the test case. The plant will use 200 kilowatts of energy from the fuel cell to power 200 computers. Any excess energy will go back to the Dry Creek Water Reclamation Facility to defray its electric bills. After an 18-month test period that will begin in the spring, Microsoft will give the facility back to the city and the university to use as a teaching lab. This is part of the deal, as Microsoft has to provide a "public benefit" in trade for taxpayer funding that's going to the project. Sounds like a win-win to me, a great public-private partnership. Read more about it here

The Western Research Institute is housed in the Bureau of Mines Building on the University of Wyoming campus in Laramie. WRI CEO Don Collins was instrumental in landing the project for the state. Said Collins:
“Microsoft is developing it as the first zero-carbon Data Plant in the world, and it will be in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Even Bill Gates had a tweet about how excited he was about this project.”
When Bill Gates tweets, people pay attention. 

Collins also said that:
...CO2 that comes out of the fuel cell can be captured and used for enhanced oil recovery in the state.  Wyoming currently does not have enough CO2 for such operations, he says. A company using a fuel cell in this manner could sell its CO2 at $25-$30 per ton to oil companies and make approximately $2.25 million, Collins says. That business scenario could make it more attractive for more fuel cell use in Wyoming.

“There might really be a strategic advantage for Wyoming for all energy-intensive companies that sell CO2 to cut costs,” Collins says. “Our goal is to turn CO2 into a valuable asset rather than something that must be disposed of at a high expense.”

At a recent meeting Collins attended in San Jose, Calif., Microsoft indicated its desire to keep the Data Plant in Cheyenne “as a long-term demonstration facility,” Collins says.

Use of a demonstration facility enhances opportunities for UW and WRI to secure competitive funding from the federal government and the Wyoming Energy Conversion Technology Fund, Collins adds.
Your taxpayer dollars at work. And I'm not being snarky. This sounds like an excellent use of state and federal funds.Microsoft may eventually use this technology for its cloud computing centers that are springing up all over the U.S. The City of Cheyenne and the State of Wyoming could do worse than having Microsoft for a partner.

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