The amount of power that's needed for a small data center like the ones Microsoft maintains can be considerable, which is one of the reasons why the company is looking into alternative energy sources such as biogas and wind farms. This week, the company revealed it is studying the possibility of using fuel cells to power some of its data centers.
In a blog post, Sean James, a Senior Research Program Manager for Microsoft's Global Foundation Services, states that their initial study in the use of fuel cells has yielded some interesting results. He states:
Based on our models detailed in the paper, we show how integrating a small generator with the IT hardware significantly cuts complexity by eliminating all the electrical distribution in the grid and datacenter. This is where the fuel cell comes in. Fuel cells are not limited by the Carnot Cycle Efficiency limit that conventional generators are. Fuel cells are very clean, reliable and perfect for small form factor applications.
The paper suggested that a fuel cell-based data center would lower infrastructure costs, since there would be no need to hook up the center to a distant power generator. It would also be more energy efficient and would lower the impact of any data center failures. However, it may be some time before the first fuel cell-based center is put into operation. James states there are still a number of technical problems to overcome, including "thermal cycling, fuel distribution systems, cell conductivity, power management, and safety training."