Microsoft Ran Its Data Center on Hydrogen Fuel Cells For Two Days

Published on July 28, 2020
Image Credit: [Flickr]

Monday, Microsoft announced that it used hydrogen fuel cells to power a row of its servers. The servers used for the test were powered for 48 continuous hours using hydrogen fuel cell technology. This success brings the software giant one step closer to its goal of becoming carbon negative by 2030. Microsoft will be using what they learned in this small-scale test to explore how the clean technology could be utilized to power larger aspects of its operations.

In January, the Redmond, Washington based operating system pioneer detailed to ‘ultimately remove Microsoft’s carbon footprint’ by 2030. The company had by then eliminated a large portion of its dependence on fossil fuels, but it still maintained several diesel-powered backup generators at Microsoft’s ‘Azure’ data centers. Diesel is still expensive, but hydrogen fuel cell costs have come down a lot, so company officials chose to test hydrogen fuel cells as a possible replacement.

Back in 2018, researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory successfully used a PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) hydrogen fuel cell to power a rack of servers. A team lead by Mark Monroe, a Microsoft infrastructure engineer, watched a demonstration of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s PEM hydrogen system and were intrigued with the technology.

Monroe and his team developed a 250-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell system. That’s enough power to run an entire row of data center servers. In September of 2019, this system was installed it at an Azure datacenter just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. Then, in June, the system was put through a 48-hour test and passed. Now, the team is planning to test a 3-megawatt fuel system solution. That’s enough power to completely replace a diesel generator.

It may even be possible to run the entire Azure data center entirely on hydrogen fuel cells. These systems could then be integrated into the national power grid to provide load balancing services. In making progress on hydrogen fuel technology, Microsoft is setting an example of how to do hydrogen correctly, and will more than likely serve as a model for it’s use elsewhere and in the future.

Featured Image Credit: [Flickr]

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