As reported by the U.S.-based Waste Business Journal (www.wastebusinessjournal.com), Microsoft is researching the idea of locating its data centres near landfills and wastewater treatment plants from which they could generate their own power.
A recent blog by Christian Belady, general manager of Data Center Services for Microsoft, outlined the company's vision of grid independent fuel cell powered data centres utilizing biogas as a fuel source.
He notes that data centres require a consistent and very reliable power supply.
To date, the industry strategy has been to employ a costly and complex array of equipment such as UPS, back-up generators, maintenance bypass circuits, and power conditioning to assure the consistency.
That equipment itself adds another source of failure.
"Without a bold shift in strategy, our entire industry will become more dependent on a costly, antiquated, and constricted power grid," says Belady.
The solution he offers is to change where companies source energy for their facilities -- and to relocate the data centres towards those sources.
Biogas has the benefit of being 100 per cent renewable. According to the blog, a biogas powered reciprocating engine will typically yield 30 per cent efficiency, a turbine 40 per cent, and a fuel cell 60 per cent.
Moreover, fuel cells employ a clean electrochemical reaction that results in nearly zero emissions, making it easier to secure air quality permits.
Microsoft is now researching a small-scale experiment to measure the performance and benefits and is seeking a location to test a prototype, says Belady.
Fuel cells could free data centres from the power grid and allow the IT industry to minimize its impact on the planet, while actually making the hardware behind the Cloud simpler to maintain and more reliable.
"This industry is blessed with a lot of smart people attacking the same problem set,” says Belady. “Personally, I am very excited about these possibilities and believe I am fortunate to be working on this technology at this time.”