Microsoft runs a data centre on hydrogen for 48 whole hours, reckons it could kick hydrocarbon habit by 2030

Now to figure out how to make and store the gas, and fit fuel cells into bit barns


Microsoft has revealed that it ran racks full of servers for 48 hours using electricity generated by hydrogen fuel cells, but the company's aspiration to use the tech again needs careful scrutiny.

Redmond says the cells used proton exchange membrane technology that output 250kW to run "a row of datacenter servers for 48 consecutive hours."

That may actually be a modest claim as big data centres budget to pipe around 5kW to a typical rack full of kit. Higher consumption is of course possible as servers and storage become ever denser and cooling improves. But 250kW is not enough to run a whole data centre, hence Microsoft saying its next test will involve a 3MW fuel cell rig in an effort to apply the tech at a larger scale.

Microsoft thinks that hydrogen fuel cells can eventually replace the diesel generators it uses as emergency backups at its bit barns, and reckons it can kick its hydrocarbon habit by 2030 with fuel cells that run the 48 hours required to deliver five nines operations.

Redmond's blog post is replete with references to hydrogen not making CO2 and therefore being a better environmental option, but hardly addresses how it would create the hydrogen it needs or how to store it. Microsoft admits it would need plenty of the gas – its post says 48 hours of fuel cell operation needs 100,000kg of the stuff – on hand to deliver five nines reliability.

Also worth considering is that Microsoft's photo of the fuel cells shows three substantial units that together occupy plenty of what looks like a car park. Diesel generators may make CO2, but do have the virtue of being small enough to house inside a data centre's walls.

Microsoft does at least say it knows there's lots more research to do before it can hit its 2030 goal. But hydrogen enthusiasm is not hard to find: your correspondent first encountered it at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 when the car that led the women's marathon ran on the gas and no comparable vehicle has become commercially available since. Australia's last prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, liked the idea that the country's arid north could house massive solar-powered electrolysis farms that turned seawater into hydrogen that would be piped to emerging Asian economies, but his fossil-fuel-friendly party room sacked him over such plans. ®

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