Print 8 comment(s) - last by typicalGeek.. on Feb 6 at 3:49 PM

Fuel cell system directly powers the data center servers

Microsoft has been on a mission to improve efficiency and improve uptime at its major data centers. Microsoft has realized its goal by demonstrating a fuel cell concept at the National Fuel Cell Research Center at UC Irvine.
Microsoft displayed a rack of servers that are powered by the DC output from a fuel cell stack. Microsoft says that the fuel cells strip out most of the infrastructure needed in a traditional data center supply chain. The result is a simplified data center with less potential for failure.
By powering the data center directly from the fuel cell stack, Microsoft can bypass power conditioning electronics. That power conditioning gear typically compensates for fluctuations in stack voltage as loads are applied and removed in the data center.

Microsoft says that the electrical efficiency from the fuel cell stack to server improved to 53.3% compared to 39.8% with traditional electricity hardware.
For all of its simplicity and efficiency, Microsoft admits that even using off the shelf fuel cells, the fuel cell system has a levelized cost of energy (LCOE) that isn’t competitive with conventional power generation. However, the fuel cell system sees cost advantages that give it the potential to be much cheaper than conventional systems.
Sean James, Senior Research Program Manager for Global Foundation Services, notes:
By designing a system that is nearly twice as efficient (uses half the energy) as the traditional model for delivering electricity to a server, we can obviously pay more for electricity coming out of the fuel cell and still have a lower total cost. And that is just the energy cost savings. Once we add in the cost savings from the avoided infrastructure (the outlets, meters, power lines, power plants), we have a design that is more elegant, requires less energy and has the potential to be significantly less expensive than traditional datacenter designs.
Microsoft obviously isn’t the only big name company that’s interested in fuel cell technology. Companies like Bloom Energy have heavy-hitting customers like Google, Walmart, FedEx and eBay.

Source: Global Foundation Services

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By Souka on 2/6/2014 11:33:20 AM , Rating: 2
Most businesses have their data center inside buildings that are occupied by staff. I wonder how fire codes and other regulations deal with piping natural gas into such areas?

What are the fire suppression requirements? A massive halon system? special venting? higher insurance premiums.

Yes, improving effecenicy by %20 is good, but does it raise other costs?

RE: regulations
By FaaR on 2/6/2014 12:21:09 PM , Rating: 2
At conventional powerplants, power generation may go hand-in-hand with creation of hot water powered by exhaust steam from the turbines for things like heating homes and tap water. This greatly improves overall efficiency of the facility, but would likely not be employable in a situation like this, likely due to things like low heat differential, making recovery difficult. Waste heat from the fuel cells would therefore simply go right out into the ambient air outside and be lost to us.

We gotta start thinking full cycle-like. Not just concern ourselves with the initial first-leg expenditure of energy. Our stores of hydrocarbons won't last forever (and we may want to use them for more productive things than just burning them), and the earth's environment can't handle all that pollution we're creating anyway.

RE: regulations
By fic2 on 2/6/2014 12:36:21 PM , Rating: 2
Lots of people have natural gas heating systems and/or gas stoves/fireplaces in their homes. Usual requirement is venting to outside and, at least here in CO, a CO detector.

RE: regulations
By Ammohunt on 2/6/2014 2:39:10 PM , Rating: 2
Natural gas is run to the majority of houses here in the west. The infrastructures is already there a fule cell is just another gas appliance.

DC is the only was to go! there is so much energy waste in turning AC into DC in the form of heat.

RE: regulations
By Murloc on 2/6/2014 3:15:53 PM , Rating: 2
in Italy most stoves are gas powered and many house and water heating systems are gas powered as well.

They have to keep the pipes outside of the house and make it enter into the wall only when necessary.

Nothing bad ever happens really.

interesting picture
By fic2 on 2/6/2014 12:39:07 PM , Rating: 2
The guys in the picture actually look like engineers. Most of the times for photo ops like this they have the VPs and marketing people photo bombing the pictures acting like they know what the hell the product does.

Bloom box
By typicalGeek on 2/6/2014 3:49:39 PM , Rating: 2
How is this any different than the Bloom Boxes that several of Google's and Ebay's data centers have been using for several years? Looks more like an exercise in "me too" than any else.

Potential applications.
By TheEquatorialSky on 2/6/2014 11:54:56 AM , Rating: 1
If the technology can be scaled and commoditized, it seems like it would make a great solid-state home backup generator. Since a variation of the technology is used in some prototype electric cars, I imagine it can start/stop rapidly and require negligible maintenance.

It could also supplement (or replace) off-grid solar panels, freeing consumers from the electric utility monopoly.

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