Data center facilities pro

May 29 2009   12:06PM GMT

Syracuse University data center to be powered by microturbine generators

Mark Fontecchio Mark Fontecchio Profile: Mark Fontecchio

Syracuse University and IBM are teaming up on a new data center that will be off the utility’s power grid, instead relying on natural gas to power microturbine generators and supply both electricity and cooling to the facility.

The cost of the 6,000-square-foot data center is estimated at $12.4 million, with The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority pitching in $2 million. The server infrastructure will be a mix of IBM boxes — blades, Power-based machines, and z10 mainframes — and the data center will also use IBM’s Rear Door Heat Exchanger, which is a chilled water door on the back of server racks.

Perhaps most interesting about the project, however, will be its use of microturbine generators to power the facility (picture courtesy of Capstone, shown at right). I spoke yesterday to Roger Schmidt, a distinguished engineer at IBM who was a part of this project, about those turbines. He said the plan is for them to have 12 of the microturbine generators, each with a power capacity of 60-65 kilowatts, for a tA picture of a microturbine, courtesy of Capstoneotal of about 750 kilowatts maximum power to the facility. Schmidt estimated that when the facility first gets up and running, it will only need 150-200 kilowatts, and so it will be able to grow into the capacity. The data center will also be running uninterruptible power supplies (UPSes) and will be tied into the electrical grid as backups.

The microturbine generators come from Capstone MicroTurbine, one of the biggest manufacturers of these machines. Other companies that make them include Kawasaki and Solar, a division of Caterpillar. Schmidt explained how they work:

“So we bring in natural gas, which in the U.S. is pretty prevalent.  Basically we run that to a turbine, which you burn to create energy that rotates the turbine wheel. That ties into a generator that drives electricity similar to a power plant to power up the data center.”

Schmidt added that the waste heat from the turbine can then be used in two ways: to cool the data center and then for heating buildings elsewhere on campus.

How can waste heat be used for cooling? By using an adsorption chiller, the heat goes through a thermodynamic cycle, according to Schmidt, that can convert it into cooling energy. This process is typically known as cogeneration, meaning it generates both electricity and useful heat. Schmidt called it “trigeneration” because the generator not only creates electricity, but also creates useful heat that can be used in two ways — to cool the data center and warm campus buildings.

“I only know of a few other data centers using this technology of cogeneration,” Schmidt said. “It’s kind of a unique technology and really hasn’t been applied to data centers.”

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