Energy Tech Firms Partner To Boost COVID-19 Cure Research

Mar 27, 2020

One of Crusoe's computer modules
Credit Permission from Crusoe Energy System

Crusoe Energy Systems, with operations in Wyoming's Powder River Basin and northern DJ Basin, is contributing to a global effort to find a cure for COVID-19, now with the help of Mesa Natural Gas Solutions, based out of Casper.

The companies are donating computational resources to the Folding@Home Consortium. The project uses computer power from individuals and teams all over the world to simulate virus and protein folding processes virtually instead of through a lab. The goal is to quickly analyze potential therapies for COVID-19.

"A lot of companies will do something like donate a percentage of their profits to a charity. We thought, what's special about Crusoe is that we have access to huge computational resources and a lot of abundant low-cost energy," said Cully Cavness, the president and co-founder of Crusoe.

It has access to huge computational resources because, with the help of Mesa, Crusoe's business is using natural gas that would otherwise be flared to power data centers. Generally, the company uses that power to process and validate transactions on the bitcoin network. It also uses its system to do artificial intelligence model training and machine learning algorithm training.

A Crusoe modular system
Credit Permission from Crusoe Energy System

Cavness explains their set-up looks like a customized shipping container full of hundreds of servers out in remote areas near oil and gas operations.

On March 15, Crusoe decided to devote some of its resources specifically to Folding@Home's research on a COVID-19 treatment. He said that research is energy and computationally intense.

"They have to model this 3-D process in a lot of detail and then look at how that might interact with a receptor in a lung cell, for example, for COVID-19. They're looking at that interaction and introducing a new drug [and] how it might prevent the viral infection in that lung cell's receptor," Cavness explains.

The COVID-19 page of Folding@Home's website explains that the "3-D process" they're creating is kind of like a movie that helps show how certain proteins move.

"Doing so can reveal new therapeutic opportunities. For example, in our recent paper, we simulated a protein from Ebola virus that is typically considered 'undruggable' because the snapshots from experiments don't have obvious druggable sites. But, our simulations uncovered an alternative structure that does have a druggable site. We want to do the same thing with coronavirus," read the webpage.

On March 26, Mesa, a long-time Crusoe partner, decided to donate natural gas generators to expand Crusoe's efforts. Cavness said the donation allows his company to double the scale of what's already underway.
 

Crusoe's ranking within the Folding@Home system
Credit folding.extremeoverclocking.com

Since March 15, Crusoe Energy has jumped to the top 3 percent of contributing users with a ranking of 4,545 out of 161,373 users.

According to anandtech, the global effort to power Folding@Home has created a level of performance 10 times more powerful than the largest supercomputer in the world.

Folding@Home says anyone with a computer can donate resources to the project through its software.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Cooper McKim, at cmckim5@uwyo.edu.