Microsoft Net Zero Carbon Center – A Literal Case of Garbage in Garbage Out

In a previous blog, I talked about the Facebook data storage center in Lapland using a naturally cold area to minimize the energy costs of the facility. I speculated about how we could use the heat coming off such facilities for other uses. Well, here is another article I came across with a creative way to offset carbon.

This article talks about Microsoft building the first zero carbon data center powered by a fuel cell burning 100 percent renewable biogas from a wastewater treatment plant. The new, small prototype 300 kW “Data Plant” is being built outside of Cheyenne, Wyo. at the city’s Dry Creek Water Reclamation Facility and will run on methane produced by the facility.

Microsoft reported the $8 million modular data center pilot, which will begin operating next spring, is just a fraction of the size of its other data centers and does not contain any production computing applications. However, if successful, it could be implemented on a megawatt scale at larger data centers in the future.

Buckminster Fuller in Spaceship Earth noted that trash and pollution were just the little bits and pieces we haven’t figured out how to use yet.  Well, looks like someone figured out how to use methane. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in the United States from human activity. This is exciting news since we have so many landfills in addition to water treatment plants that produce methane. This could be a first step is using a gas that is virtually going to waste.

Fuel cells – non-carbon based fuel cells – a perfect solution.  In fact, Saint-Gobain is working on this technology so we do have some skin in the game on this technology.

This is a great example of a company that is using emerging technology to utilize an otherwise squandered resource.  Hats off to Microsoft!

Taking a Bite Out of the Whale

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton

The Prince of Wales’ Corporate Leaders’ Group on Climate Change recently presented The Copenhagen Communiqué to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.  This document, signed by more than 500 businesses across the globe, states that “economic development will not be sustained in the longer term unless the climate is stabilized.”  It also calls for an agreement to be drafted and accepted that “establishes a global emission cap and long-term reduction pathway for all greenhouse gas emissions and sources, for the period 2013 to 2050 (with interim targets).”

CertainTeed’s parent company, Saint-Gobain is among the signers of the document and all of the businesses of Saint-Gobain have corporate mandates to reduce our carbon footprint in our buildings and manufacturing facilities.

If the UN adopts this proposal, it presents an interesting challenge for the United States and addresses what I discussed in a previous blog about the need for energy auditors.  In the US, our energy standards have changed dramatically over the last 20 years, but 90 percent of our homes and about 4 million commercial buildings were built before 1990.  While we have seen many programs able to achieve energy efficiency and sustainability in new design and construction, those advances are like taking a bite out of a whale – because they represent less than 2% of our reality.  We have to address the 98% of buildings that remain because that’s where our energy is being consumed. With a global goal of reducing carbon emissions by 50%, we would never reach that goal just by greening our new construction. We have to go back and green our existing construction if we are ever going to meet even 15, 20 or 30% goals. There is a growing need for programs that can retroactively improve building performance.

At the 2009 GreenBuild Convention in November in Phoenix, Arizona, CertainTeed will be hosting a luncheon with guest speakers from Gerding Edlen Development on this very issue.  Gerding Edlen has a Sustainable Solutions program which is successfully retrofitting existing buildings and significantly reducing the carbon emissions. I can’t wait to learn about how they are doing this.  This is an incredibly important time to talk about this issue because although they are not easy to do, we have achieved passive houses and zero energy buildings. Its one thing to achieve zero energy when you start with a clean piece of paper and design in the building efficiency, but it’s another thing when you inherit someone else’s mess. While it’s a more difficult target, it’s the most important target. There are limited slots available for this luncheon.  If you are planning to attend GreenBuild and would like to attend, email Kristen Harter, Kristen.M.Harter@saint-gobain.com.

If the UN adopts the Copenhagen Communiqué, it will certainly accelerate our efforts to retrofit the existing building inventory globally. Each existing building we improve will have an impact on controlling greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

While the task may seem insurmountable, we do know how to eat a whale right? One bite at a time.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation.