Microsoft drives hydrogen fuel cell development

Microsoft drives hydrogen fuel cell development
Clean energy source could provide power for Azure data centres during outages

Elly Yates-Roberts |

Microsoft is driving hydrogen fuel cell development to provide clean power for Azure data centres during outages. 

The company has successfully powered a row of data centre servers for 48 consecutive hours using hydrogen fuel cells. The achievement is part of Microsoft’s commitment to becoming carbon negative by 2030

Microsoft currently uses diesel-powered generators to support its data centres in the event of power outages and other service disruptions, but the firm is working towards eliminating this dependency. And with the associated costs of hydrogen fuel cells plummeting in recent years, Microsoft says that “they are now an economically viable alternative to diesel-powered back-up generators”.

After seeing a demonstration on using hydrogen fuel cells as a power source at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, USA, in 2018, Microsoft began looking into its own initiatives. A team began testing a 250-kilowatt fuel cell system to support a full row of its data centre servers at Power Innovations in Utah, in September 2019. It passed the 24-hour endurance test in December and the 48-hour test – which would provide 99.999 per cent service availability to customers – this June.

“It is the largest computer back-up power system that we know that is running on hydrogen and it has run the longest continuous test,” said Mark Monroe, a principle infrastructure engineer on Microsoft’s team for data centre advanced development. 

According to Microsoft, the next step is to procure and test a three-megawatt fuel cell system, which is an equivalent size to the diesel-powered backup generators used at Azure data centres.

Read the full story: Microsoft tests hydrogen fuel cells for backup power at datacenters

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