Microsoft Demonstrates the Clean Power Hack for Data Centers That Keeps the Internet Prosperous – GeekWire

Hannah Baldwin, an electrical engineer for a high-power stationary group at Plug Power, examines a fuel cell in a generator built in New York in partnership with Microsoft. (Microsoft Photo/John Precher)

Data centers are filled with Millions of servers It provides the backbone of the internet, hiding everything from cat videos to financial transactions to online games whenever and wherever you need them.

Given the importance of data centers, their operators – including Microsoft, Amazon and Google – go to great lengths to make sure there is always power to keep them running. This means there is sufficient backup power from the diesel generators and batteries in the event of a power outage.

But tech companies are also pledging ambitious climate goals that are incompatible with burning diesel from fossil fuels.

Microsoft is working on cleaner alternatives and on announced Thursday The so-called “moon landing moment” for the data center industry: the successful demonstration of a large-scale generator running on hydrogen fuel cells.

“There was nothing like this before we started this research project and inspiring fuel cell companies to really think about stationary power,” Mark Munro, Microsoft’s lead infrastructure engineer, said in an interview with GeekWire.

Hydrogen is generating a growing buzz around the world as a versatile, clean burning fuel. Microsoft developed the pilot project builder with power plugIt is a company specializing in fuel cells and hydrogen energy. A standby generator can produce up to 3 megawatts of power, which is enough to replace one diesel generator. The fuel cells are housed inside two 40-foot cargo containers.

Microsoft and Plug Power have built a backup generator in Latham, New York that is powered by hydrogen fuel cells that generate electricity, heat and water. Most of the water is released as liquid, but some vents as vapor, as captured here. (Microsoft Photo/John Precher)

Washington-based Microsoft in Redmond operates more than 200 data centers worldwide, which serve as its hardware Highly profitable Azure cloud services.

He said there are a lot of reasons for technology companies to pursue clean backup energy Sebastian MossEditor in Chief Data Centera data center analytics service provider based in London.

“Getting off diesel would have multiple benefits beyond the basic ethical imperative.”

“Diseling off diesel would have multiple benefits beyond a basic moral imperative,” Moss said by email. “It is easier for data centers to get permits because they don’t have to worry about them. [pollution] particulate matter, and that means lower emissions for an increasingly climate-conscious customer.”

Microsoft, in fact, has a tool for customers Calculate their Azure-based emissions. He set a goal for 2030 to become carbon negative, which means it removes more carbon than it releases.

For the past four years, Microsoft has been testing smaller versions of hydrogen fuel cell generators. The company worked in collaboration with researchers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden and Colorado and Power Innovations in Salt Lake City. The latest project with New York-based Plug Power is generating 36 times more power than their initial effort.

Microsoft officials say they are also looking for more efficient and longer-lasting batteries. The company also has a data center in Sweden that uses more climate-friendly diesel generators made in part from renewable raw materials.

The system developed with Plug Power uses what’s called a proton exchange membrane, or PEM, which is fuel cell technology. PEM fuel cells generate electricity and heat by combining hydrogen and oxygen. Its “waste” product is water.

The cells are fed with hydrogen that is created as a byproduct in the industrial manufacture of chlorine and sodium hydroxide. This source is considered “blue hydrogen,” which means there are some climate impacts from the fuel. Microsoft plans to switch to climate-neutral “green hydrogen” as its fuel, but for now it’s in limited supply.

A prototype of a 3-megawatt hydrogen fuel cell generator was built in Latham, New York by Plug Power in partnership with Microsoft. (Microsoft Photo/John Precher)

Microsoft officials declined to say how many diesel generators it uses, calling them “more than hundreds.” Google estimated that there are about 20 gigawatts of standby diesel generators worldwide, said Moss, of DatacenterDynamics.

But even at this level, the footprint isn’t gigantic.

“Emissions from standby diesel generators are a small share of operational emissions for many large data center operators, so the immediate climate benefits are likely to be small,” George Kamiyeis a Paris-based digital energy analyst and has International Energy Agency (IEA).

The biggest impact is the potential for this technology to be expanded to sectors such as hospitals that also rely on diesel generators, Kamiya said by email.

“This in turn could have benefits for the power grid, while also reducing emissions in the long term,” he said.

But there are more hurdles to overcome before hydrogen fuel cells become a more widespread solution.

“Microsoft was leading the hydrogen shipment, but [hydrogen] “It doesn’t have the same energy density as diesel, so you need to use more space to store the same amount of energy,” Moss said. “It also doesn’t have anywhere close to a robust supply chain, so you can’t guarantee supplies will continue when your reserves run out.”

Microsoft officials agreed on a shortage of suppliers of green hydrogen and fuel cell devices. But there are many potential applications, and the hope is that software and the giant cloud will help create demand for the sector to spur its growth.

“That’s why this topic interests us,” said Brian Janos, general manager of energy and sustainability at Microsoft. “Because it’s far from this demonstration project, it’s really about how we can count on us to really help accelerate the hydrogen economy.”