Microsoft Demonstrates Fuel Cell Power Generation for Data Centers
February 6, 2014 9:11 AM
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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.
Global Foundation Services
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2/6/2014 12:21:09 PM
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.
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