Microsoft is exploring data centers powered by fuel cells

Nov 15, 2013 by Nancy Owano weblog

(Phys.org) —Fuel cell powered data centers may not be ready today but Microsoft is exploring the idea in a vision of data centers that one day can get out from under reliance on the electricity grid. Microsoft has released a paper discussing the fuel cell-based data center power distribution system. "No More Electrical Infrastructure: Towards Fuel Cell Powered Data Centers" is authored by Ana Carolina Riekstin, Sean James, Aman Kansal, Jie Liu, and Eric Peterson. The authors said that "If the FCs are placed close to power consumption units, at the servers or racks, we can completely eliminate the power distribution system in the data center, including the power backup generation system. So, no data center wide electrical infrastructure is required."

Sean James, one of the authors, blogged earlier this week about the paper and Microsoft's overall initiative. "Based on our models detailed in the paper," he said, "we show how integrating a small generator with the IT hardware significantly cuts complexity by eliminating all the electrical distribution in the grid and data center." James is senior research program manager, Global Foundation Services (the engine that powers Microsoft's cloud services). The paper, he said, describes "how we are taking an unconventional approach to power a data center entirely by fuel cells integrated directly into the server racks."

The study, he remarked," explores how to collapse the entire energy supply chain, from the power plant to the server motherboard, into the confines of a server single cabinet." James cited key advantages of fuel cells, saying they are clean, reliable and well suited for small form-factor applications. While there is still a CO2 waste stream, the output is significantly lower and cleaner than other power generation technologies, he added. "In the new datacenter design approach outlined in our paper, chemical energy is first converted to direct current electrochemically and sent a few feet to the server power supply."

James also noted that the cost of fuel cells will drop as the industry matures, especially small form factor fuel cells for automotive and IT applications.

At this stage, however, he recognizes that such an initiative is not without challenges. "Deep technical issues remain, such as thermal cycling, fuel distribution systems, cell conductivity, power management, and safety training that needs to be further researched and solutions developed. But we are excited about working to resolve these challenges. This is only the early stages in our exploration of this concept."

Explore further: Architects to hatch Ecocapsule as low-energy house

More information: www.globalfoundationservices.com/posts/2013/november/12/microsoft-exploring-fuel-cell-powered-datacenters-via-the-server-rack.aspx
research.microsoft.com/pubs/203898/FCDC.pdf

Related Stories

EBay to power new data center with fuel cells

Jun 26, 2012

(Phys.org) -- Proving that it’s serious about becoming greener, EBay has announced that a new data center being built in Utah will run entirely on fuel cells, a move that other giants in the technology ...

New fuel cell system generates power on campus

Sep 21, 2012

UC Santa Barbara is now host to a unique new energy system that is providing electricity as part of the university's commitment to energy efficiency and sustainability. The new 200-kilowatt Bloom Energy Server ...

Fuel cell park in Connecticut is on board for 2013

Dec 19, 2012

(Phys.org)—North America's biggest fuel cell power plant is coming to Connecticut, and construction is to begin immediately. Dominion Resources, an energy company based in Virginia, and FuelCell Energy, ...

Recommended for you

Architects to hatch Ecocapsule as low-energy house

21 hours ago

Where people call home depends on varied factors, from poverty level to personal philosophy to vanity to community pressure. Ecocapsule appears to be the result of special factors, a team of architects applying ...

Power to the batteries

May 22, 2015

Better solar panels and wind turbines are important to helping ensure a low-carbon future. But they are not enough. The energy from these intermittent sources must be stored, managed, converted and accessed ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.