FuelCell Energy, Inc. has announced a project utilizing a stationary fuel cell power plant to support Microsoft's latest data center research project. The power plant will utilize renewable biogas generated by a wastewater treatment facility as the fuel source to generate ultra-clean and carbon-neutral electricity to power Microsoft's Data Plant project in Cheyenne, WY. This sub-megawatt power plant project enables Microsoft to evaluate the effectiveness of using FuelCell Energy power plants to efficiently use on-site biogas to power future sustainable data centers.

"With the demand for renewable energy resources outstripping available power supplies today, Microsoft is researching new methods to help our operations become more efficient and environmentally sustainable," said Gregg McKnight, general manager, Data Center Advanced Development at Microsoft. "We're excited by the potential for using stationary fuel cells to capture and recycle natural byproducts like biogas. This project will study methods to provide an economical and reliable power supply for data centers that is also scalable and economical for use by other industries."  

The sub-megawatt Direct FuelCell® (DFC®) power plant will be installed at the Dry Creek Water Reclamation Facility in Cheyenne, Wyoming by Spring 2013. The fuel cell plant will provide 200 kilowatts of power for Microsoft's Data Plant which will be housed in a modular IT pre-assembled component (ITPAC) that will house servers to recreate a data center environment. Excess power not used by the data center will be provided to the water reclamation facility to offset their electric costs.  In the event of a grid outage, the Data Plant project and fuel cell plant will be configured to operate independently to provide continuous power.

"Our fuel cell technology is uniquely positioned to provide what other megawatt-class power generation products can't, which is efficiently converting renewable biogas into continuous baseload power right where the biogas is generated and in a manner that is virtually absent of pollutants," said Chip Bottone, President and Chief Executive Officer, FuelCell Energy, Inc. "The economics of our on-site power generation solutions are well suited for data centers, including the ability to use renewable biogas as a fuel source to provide carbon neutral power." 

A diverse coalition of entities is participating in bringing the project to fruition, including the Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities, Cheyenne Light, Fuel and Power Company, Western Research Institute, the University of Wyoming, the Wyoming Business Council, and Cheyenne LEADS, the economic development organization for Cheyenne and Laramie County, WY. 

The city of Cheyenne applied for a $1,500,000 Community Readiness grant through the Wyoming Business Council's Business Ready Communities program earlier this year to fund the needed infrastructure to support the Data Plant project. The application has been recommended by the Business Council board at its November 6, 2012 meeting and is on the December 6, 2012 agenda for the Wyoming State Loan and Investment Board (SLIB) for a final decision.

"Although still in the application phase and the final decision has yet to be made, this is a great project and an example of our broad efforts in advanced energy technologies and clean carbon conversion in Wyoming," said Bob Jensen, chief executive officer, Wyoming Business Council. "Our board approved this application and it will be voted on by the State Loan and Investment Board December 6 for its final decision."

In May 2012, Microsoft announced their commitment to become carbon neutral beginning in 2013. Reliable on-site power generation that is environmentally-friendly is a key consideration for Microsoft as they evaluate clean and renewable energy generation for their data centers which power the company's cloud services and support more than 1 billion customers and 20 million businesses globally.  

Stationary DFC power plants convert a fuel source into ultra-clean electricity and usable high temperature heat suitable for making steam. DFC plants are fuel flexible, capable of operating on clean and abundant natural gas, renewable biogas, directed biogas and other fuels including propane. The fuel cell generates electricity and heat electrochemically. Due to the absence of combustion, virtually no pollutants are emitted. The almost complete absence of nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SOx) and particulate matter is why DFC plants are termed ultra-clean.

DFC plants can be located where biogas is generated and directly use the biogas with only minimal cleaning of the gas. Biogas contains humidity, sulfur and carbon dioxide (CO2). Prior to being used as a fuel source for the Direct FuelCell, the humidity and sulfur must be removed, but the DFC technology does not require the removal of the CO2. This is a cost advantage as pipeline quality biogas, also termed directed biogas, must have the CO2 removed prior to being injected in the gas pipeline, which is an energy-intensive process and adds cost.

Generating both clean electricity and usable heat from the same unit of fuel enhances efficiency and reduces emissions.  DFC power plants designed and manufactured by FuelCell Energy, Inc. have the highest electrical efficiency of any similar-sized baseload power generation.

The combination of near-zero pollutants, modest land-use needs, avoidance of supporting transmission and distribution power lines, and quiet operating nature of DFC plants facilitates their siting in populated areas.