Sunday, September 20, 2020
Tech

Microsoft to power its data centres with hydrogen fuel cells

Microsoft to power its data centres with hydrogen fuel cells
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Microsoft has successfully tested a 250-kilowatt fuel system that powered a row of data centre servers for 48 consecutive hours this June.

Microsoft is testing hydrogen fuel cells to power its data centre servers, making it the first company to build a clean energy power source using the most abundant element on the planet.

The company is working on replacement technologies for diesel to maintain or improve service availability. It is seeing promise in hydrogen fuel cells and batteries, said Brian Janous, general manager of Microsoft’s team for data centre, energy and sustainability strategy.

Microsoft has successfully tested a 250-kilowatt fuel system that powered a row of data centre servers for 48 consecutive hours this June. Power Innovations had built the system to help Microsoft explore the potential of using hydrogen fuel cells.

“It is the largest computer backup power system that we know that is running on hydrogen and it has run the longest continuous test,” Mark Monroe, principle infrastructure engineer at Microsoft said.

Power Innovations built a 250-kilowatt fuel cell system to help Microsoft

Power Innovations built a 250-kilowatt fuel cell system to help Microsoft
 
| Photo Credit: Microsoft

 

The successful test is Microsoft’s latest milestone in its commitment to be carbon negative by 2030, as the technology company aims to eliminate its dependency on diesel fuel.

The next step for the team is to procure and test a 3-megawatt fuel cell system, which is on par with the size of diesel-powered backup generators at Azure data centres.

Microsoft, like most cloud providers, currently uses diesel-powered generators at its Azure data centres to support continuous operations in the event of power outages and other service disruptions.

They are expensive and they sit around and don’t do anything for more than 99% of their life, said Microsoft.

In recent years, hydrogen fuel cell costs have plummeted to the point that they are now an economically viable alternative to diesel-powered backup generators.

Microsoft started thinking about using fuel cells for backup power at data centers in 2018, when researchers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, powered a rack of computers with a proton exchange membrane, or PEM, hydrogen fuel cell.

PEM fuel cells combine hydrogen and oxygen in a process that produces water vapor and electricity. Automotive companies are developing the technology to power cars, trucks and other vehicles.

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