Microsoft demos clean energy breakthrough for data centers that keep the internet humming – GeekWire

Jaime E. Love

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Hannah Baldwin, an electrical engineer for the high-power stationary team at Plug Energy, inspects a gasoline mobile in the generator built in New York in partnership with Microsoft. (Microsoft Image / John Brecher)

Details facilities packed with thousands and thousands of servers provide the backbone of the web, dishing up everything from cat films to financial transactions to online gaming when and where by you require them.

Presented info centers’ significance, their operators — including Microsoft, Amazon and Google — choose great pains to make confident there is normally electrical power accessible to hold them running. That implies owning enough backup power from diesel turbines and batteries in scenario of electrical power outages.

But tech companies are also pledging ambitious weather ambitions that really don’t align with burning diesel from fossil fuels.

Microsoft has been functioning on cleaner solutions and on Thursday announced what it is calling a “moon landing moment” for the data heart industry: the successful demonstration of a significant-scale generator that operates on hydrogen gas cells.

“Nothing existed like this prior to us starting this research challenge and inspiring the fuel mobile firms to genuinely consider about stationary electricity,” stated Mark Monroe, a principal infrastructure engineer for Microsoft, in an interview with GeekWire.

Hydrogen is producing growing excitement globally as a flexible, cleanse burning fuel. Microsoft made the pilot-undertaking generator with Plug Electric power, a company specializing in fuel cells and hydrogen power. The backup generator can generate up to 3 megawatts of power, which is sufficient to substitute 1 diesel generator. The gasoline cells are housed inside two, 40-toes-prolonged transport containers.

Microsoft and Plug Energy built a backup generator in Latham, New York which is run by hydrogen gasoline cells that produce electricity, warmth and h2o. Most of the drinking water is introduced as liquid, but some vents as steam, as captured in this article. (Microsoft Picture / John Brecher)

Redmond, Wash.-centered Microsoft operates much more than 200 info centers worldwide, which provide as the hardware for its extremely lucrative Azure cloud services.

There are loads of factors for tech businesses to pursue clean backup power, explained Sebastian Moss, editor-in-chief for DatacenterDynamics, a London-centered service provider of facts centre analysis.

“Getting off of diesel would have a number of gains outside of the fundamental ethical crucial.”

“Getting off of diesel would have multiple added benefits beyond the essential moral crucial,” Moss reported by e mail. “It is a lot easier for info facilities to get permits due to the fact they really do not have to get worried about [pollution] particulates, and it suggests reduce emissions for significantly weather-acutely aware shoppers.”

Microsoft, in point, has a tool for customers to work out their Azure-primarily based emissions. And it set a 2030 purpose of getting carbon detrimental, that means it removes far more carbon than it releases.

More than the past four several years, Microsoft has been tests lesser variations of hydrogen gasoline cell generators. The company has worked in collaboration with researchers from the National Renewable Power Laboratory in Golden, Colorado and Energy Improvements in Salt Lake Town. The most recent project with New York-primarily based Plug Electricity generates 36-periods extra vitality than their preliminary effort.

Microsoft officers say they’re also pursuing additional effective, for a longer time-long lasting batteries. The business moreover has a details center in Sweden that makes use of generators driven by additional local weather friendly diesel built in component from renewable uncooked materials.

The method created with Plug Ability takes advantage of what is called proton exchange membrane, or PEM, fuel mobile technologies. The PEM fuel cells deliver electric power and warmth by combining hydrogen and oxygen. Its “waste” solution is drinking water.

The cells are fed hydrogen that’s produced as a byproduct in the industrial production of chlorine and sodium hydroxide. This supply is regarded “blue hydrogen,” that means there are some weather impacts from the gasoline. Microsoft options to shift to local climate-neutral “green hydrogen” as its fuel, but it is at present in restricted supply.

The prototype 3 megawatt hydrogen gas mobile generator constructed in Latham, New York by Plug Power in partnership with Microsoft. (Microsoft Photo / John Brecher)

Microsoft officers declined to say how several diesel turbines it’s working with, calling it “more than hundreds.” Google has estimated that there are all-around 20 gigawatts of backup diesel generators about the environment, stated Moss, of DatacenterDynamics.

But even at that stage, the footprint isn’t gigantic.

“Emissions from diesel backup generators are a modest share of operational emissions for a lot of substantial facts centre operators, so the quick local weather positive aspects are very likely to be small,” claimed George Kamiya, a Paris-based mostly electronic strength analyst with the Intercontinental Power Agency (IEA).

The bigger impression, Kamiya claimed by e mail, is the opportunity for growing this technological innovation to sectors like hospitals that also rely on diesel turbines.

“This could in flip have gains for the electric power grid,” he said, “while also minimizing emissions about the extended phrase.”

But there are extra hurdles to conquer in advance of hydrogen gas cells become a much more popular answer.

“Microsoft has been top the hydrogen cost, but [hydrogen] does not have the similar strength density as diesel so you need to use up a good deal additional room to shop the identical quantity of power,” Moss mentioned. “It also does not have any place in the vicinity of as robust a offer chain, so you cannot guarantee continuous provides when your reserves run dry.”

Microsoft officials agreed that the suppliers for the gasoline cell components and green hydrogen are missing. But there are so many probable programs, the hope is that the software program and cloud large can support develop demand for the sector to spur its development.

“That’s why this subject is fascinating to us,” explained Brian Janous, Microsoft’s common manager of Power & Sustainability. “Because very well past this demonstration venture, it’s seriously about how do we lean in to aid truly speed up the hydrogen economic climate.”



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