Hydrogen generators could replace diesel: Microsoft

  • Market: Electricity, Hydrogen, Oil products
  • 29/07/22

US technology firm Microsoft said it hopes to eventually replace diesel generators at all its data centres, having successfully trialled a 3MW hydrogen fuel cell system as backup power generation for a site in upstate New York. It said the technology could work for a range of industries.

The 3MW fuel cell system, comprising a pair of 40ft shipping containers each holding 18 proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells, was built by US hydrogen firm Plug, which is headquartered in the state.

The 125kw fuel cells are the largest Plug has made, and the 3MW system is company's biggest application, Microsoft said. Microsoft has been gradually increasing the size of its hydrogen trials since 2018, as part of its plan to be carbon negative by 2030.

Plug is focused on commercialising the system and Microsoft said it will deploy one of the second-generation systems at a data centre, probably in a location where air-quality standards prohibit diesel generators.

The grid-powered data centres require backup in case of power outages, and require power equivalent to the consumption of 600 homes.

"Once green hydrogen is available and economically viable, this type of stationary backup power could be implemented across industries, from data centres to commercial buildings and hospitals," it said. Microsoft may now look to deploy around 1,000 fuel cell generators, the company's director of data centre research Sean James said.

One hurdle would be building a robust supply chain to deliver sufficient scale, he said, and another is the high cost of renewable hydrogen. But this is falling, and hydrogen will eventually become cost-competitive with power from diesel, the company said.

Microsoft and its peers can catalyse the scale-up of renewable hydrogen and fuel cells, the firm's chief environmental officer Lucas Joppa said.

"If we feel confident in using these to ensure continuity of our data center services, that's a big measure of faith," Joppa said.


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