The University of Toledo fires up microturbines in the data center

The University of Toledo is implementing a new power system that leverages gas-fueled microturbines in a green data center project.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to interview the CIO of Syracuse University (SU), Chris Sedore, to talk about the completion of the university’s new green data center. There’s plenty of cool green factor at SU’s data center, which is a $12.4 million, 12,000-square-foot facility that was built in partnership with IBM and the New York state government. For example, it operates completely off the grid and incorporates an energy-saving direct current (DC) power distribution system.

But the thing that I liked most was this new tri-generation system that’s used to produce all of the data center’s required power, plus chilled water to cool all the servers, and the cooling and heating needs for the building next door.

That system includes natural gas-fueled microturbines that power the data center; heat generated by the microtubines is captured as it rises up each of their smokestacks, and that heat is converted into chilled water using a liquid cooling system of absorption chillers that IBM and SU created. Heat exchangers in the racks capture heat coming from the computers, and that heat is transported out, and the chilled water is brought directly in to, via hoses, the heat exchangers, or “cooling doors” to keep the systems cool. The system eliminates the need for traditional air conditions and fans.

I found this great animation on youtube that illustrates how the system works.

The animation was created by BHP Energy (which is a distributor of microturbines).

Now there’s a second data center in the country that will leverage a similar power system – a data center at The University of Toledo. The university is partnering with the Ohio Third Frontier, a Ohio state government initiative to support technology-based economic development, and specially contractor GEM Inc. to design, develop and commercialize a new power system that, like the one in SU’s data center (which GEM designed and implemented), can reduce by 50 percent the amount of fossil fuel needed to power the data center.

Construction will begin this fall and will be complete in late 2012. For the pilot project at The University of Toledo, GEM will develop and implement key technologies and techniques for its modular power system to reduce onsite installation requirements. GEM was awarded a $1 million hybrid loan by the Ohio Third Frontier to work on the project. Capstone Turbine Corporation will provide the Hybrid UPS MicroTurbines previously used for SU’s data center, and Thermax USA will provide a specially engineered and highly efficient chilled water module.

In a prepared statement, The University of Toledo president Lloyd Jacobs said the university is “committed to advancing alternative energy research and commercialization, and we firmly believe in leading by example, which this new technology will help us do.”

I don’t have many more details about The University of Toledo project, but will keep an eye out for them. I’ll even try to talk with the team there that’s working on the project. Stay tuned.

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