The University of Wyoming and the City of Cheyenne will eventually be the beneficiaries of an innovative fuel-cell demonstration pilot project -- one that will create science from sewage -- conducted by Microsoft in Cheyenne. Valued at more than $7.5 million and dubbed the Data Plant, the mini data center will be built by Microsoft to replicate a data center environment. The Data Plant’s 300-kilowatt fuel cell will be powered by methane biogas produced from wastewater at the Dry Creek Water Reclamation Facility in Cheyenne. The fuel cell, provided by Fuel Cell Energy Inc., will, in turn, provide about 200 kilowatts of energy to power the Data Plant’s 200 computer servers. Excess electricity from the fuel cell will be delivered back to the wastewater treatment plant to reduce its electrical bills. David Bagley, professor and head of the UW Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering., says when UW officials talked to Microsoft, the company stated it wanted to be as environmentally sound as possible.

Microsoft will begin testing the concept in spring 2013, with the project expected to last 18 months. The fuel cell will provide energy that will allow UW to run high-performance computing and modeling applications from the Laramie campus. In an effort to increase efficiency, cut company costs and reduce CO2 emissions by using renewable energy, Microsoft hopes the small-scale energy project can eventually be used at the company’s larger data cloud computing centers.

After 18 months, Microsoft has offered to turn over the Data Plant to the City of Cheyenne and University to be used for continued evaluation and demonstration of mature technologies.