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Microsoft data center to use carbon neutral electricity from renewable biogas

FuelCell Energy has announced a project utilising a stationary fuel cell power plant to support Microsoft's latest data center research project.

FuelCell Energy designs and manufactures ultra-clean, efficient and reliable fuel cell power plants.

The power plant will utilise 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 Wyoming, USA.

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.

"We're excited by the potential for using stationary fuel cells to capture and recycle natural byproducts like biogas," said Gregg McKnight, general manager, Data Center Advanced Development at Microsoft.

"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 Wyoming in early 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.

"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."

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 natural gas, renewable biogas, directed biogas and other fuels including propane.

Building a data center alongside the water plant makes a fuel cell a good fit because they generate “continuous baseload power right where the biogas is generated.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.

Direct FuelCell power plants currently generate ultra-clean, efficient and reliable power at more than 50 locations worldwide.

The Company's power plants have generated more than one billion kilowatt hours of ultra-clean power using a variety of fuels including renewable biogas from wastewater treatment and food processing, as well as clean natural gas.

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