Microsoft successfully tests hydrogen fuel cells for backup power at datacenters

July 27, 2020

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Microsoft today announced that it has successfully tested hydrogen fuel cells (250-kilowatt) to power a row of datacenter servers for 48 consecutive hours. Microsoft is considering hydrogen fuel cells as an alternative to diesel generators. Microsoft right now uses diesel fuel for less than 1% of its overall emissions. Diesel-powered generators support continuous operations in the event of power outages and other service disruptions.

“They (diesel generators) are expensive. And they sit around and don’t do anything for more than 99% of their life,” said Mark Monroe, a principle infrastructure engineer on Microsoft’s team for datacenter advanced development.

Since hydrogen fuel cell costs have plummeted over the past few years, Microsoft is now exploring them as an alternative.

Microsoft’s plan for hydrogen fuel cells:

  • An Azure datacenter outfitted with fuel cells, a hydrogen storage tank and an electrolyzer that converts water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen could be integrated with the electric power grid to provide load balancing services.
  • For example, the electrolyzer could be turned on during periods of excess wind or solar energy production to store the renewable energy as hydrogen. Then, during periods of high demand, Microsoft could start up the hydrogen fuel cells to generate electricity for the grid.
  • Hydrogen-powered long-haul vehicles could pullup at datacenters to fill their tanks.

Microsoft’s next plan it to test a 3-megawatt hydrogen fuel cell system, which will be equivalent to the size of a typical diesel-powered backup generator at Azure datacenters.

Source: Microsoft

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