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Microsoft hails success of hydrogen fuel cell trial at its NY datacentre

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Microsoft has exposed about how exactly its efforts to displace the diesel backup generators in its datacentres is progressing

Caroline Donnelly

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Published: 01 Aug 2022 12: 45

Microsoft has lifted the lid on what its efforts to locate a cleaner option to diesel-powered backup generators because of its datacentres is progressing, since it continues to work at learning to be a climate-negative entity by 2030.

The program giant has published a post detailing an effective hydrogen fuel cell trial it has completed at its server farm campus in Latham, NY, which Microsofts director of datacentre research Sean James hailed as a moon-landing moment for the datacentre industry.

The business deployed a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell technology at its Latham site, which generates electricity by facilitating a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen that creates no carbon emissions whatsoever.

The PEM fuel cell test in Latham demonstrated the viability of the technology at three megawatts, the very first time at the scale of a backup generator at a datacentre, your blog post stated.

Once green hydrogen can be acquired and economically viable, this kind of stationary backup power could possibly be implemented across industries from datacentres to commercial buildings and hospitals.

The business first started tinkering with the usage of PEM fuel cells instead of diesel backup generators in 2018, having previously tested and eliminated the usage of natural gas-powered solid oxide fuel cells on cost grounds.

This work gave solution to a collaboration between Microsoft and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in 2018 that saw the pair deploy a 65 kW PEM fuel cell generator to power a rack of computers.

System build

In 2020, this work progressed to the building and creation of something which could power a 10-rack row of datacentre servers for 48 consecutive hours by using a 250-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell system.

It had been the success of the proof-of-concept that paved just how for the PEM fuel cell system at its datacentre in Latham, NY, that was built by commercial green hydrogen technology maker Plug.

The business packed 18 125 kW PEM fuel cells right into a couple of 40-foot-long shipping containers to aid the Latham site, which will be the largest Plug has available, your blog post confirmed.

With the prototype testing complete and the idea proven, Plug is targeted on rolling out an optimised commercial version of high-power stationary fuel cell systems which have an inferior footprint and a far more streamlined and polished aesthetic, your blog post stated.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has focused on installing one of these brilliant systems at a study datacentre where its engineers will learn to use the technology safely and deploy it.

The date of the initial deployment at a live datacentre is unknown, though it’ll likely occur at a fresh one at a spot where quality of air standards prohibit diesel generators, said James.

However, the firm is proceeding with caution because you can find lots of moving parts that require ahead together to guarantee the roll-out of the technology proceeds without hitch. Weve got dedication to be completely diesel-free and supplying chain must be robust weve surely got to discuss scale over the entire hydrogen industry, he added.

Diesel-powered backup generators stay in widespread use over the datacentre industry, despite their usage coming to direct odds with the net-zero commitments many operators have gone public with lately.

It has prompted some to explore more sustainable and green methods to provide backup power generation with their sites. For instance, UK colocation operator Kao Data lay out plans in July 2021 to displace its diesel generators with ones running hydrotreated vegetable oil.

However, there exists a amount of discourse in the market about how exactly a lot of an environmental impact running diesel generators has, given they’re only thrilled in emergency situations to make sure datacentres can continue steadily to function during power outages, for instance.

For Microsoft, though, phasing out the usage of diesel generators at its datacentres can be an important next thing in the companys ongoing push to become climate-negative entity by 2030.

This work has recently seen it trial the usage of a cleaner kind of diesel, containing at the very least 50% renewable raw material and generating fewer skin tightening and emissions when used consequently, in its sustainable datacentre region in Sweden.

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