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Data Storage Earth Power

Fuel Cell-Powered Data Centers Could Cut Costs and Carbon 108

Posted by samzenpus
from the fill-it-up dept.
angry tapir writes "A group of Microsoft researchers believe that using fuel cells to power data centers could potentially result in an 'over 20% reduction in costs using conservative projections', cutting infrastructure and power input costs. In addition, using fuel cells would likely result in a smaller carbon footprint for data centers. The researchers looked at the potential of using fuel cells at the rack level to power servers in data centers — although they note there is a long way to go before this could become a reality (not least of the small worldwide production level of fuel cells)."
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Fuel Cell-Powered Data Centers Could Cut Costs and Carbon

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  • by BringsApples (3418089) on Monday November 04, 2013 @01:30PM (#45327307)
    A fuel cell is a device that converts the chemical energy from a fuel into electricity through a chemical reaction with oxygen or another oxidizing agent. Hydrogen is the most common fuel, but hydrocarbons such as natural gas and alcohols like methanol are sometimes used. Fuel cells are different from batteries in that they require a constant source of fuel and oxygen/air to sustain the chemical reaction; however, fuel cells can produce electricity continually for as long as these inputs are supplied.

    So it's better to have the fuel cell at your place, rather than the fuel cells be at some electric company that then sells you the electricity at a higher price than you would pay for the "inputs".
    • Woops, I meant to credit Wikipedia with the info regarding what a fuel cell is.
    • by randomErr (172078)

      So the fuel cell is creating a emissions of sort. It looks like they're using hydrogen and natural gas. Hydrogen will raise moisture levels and possible damage to the equipment. There is research to suggest that that burning hydrogen may have negative environmental impacts. Natural gas still has a carbon footprint and the switch to using it in wide scale production will cause a rise in price for all consumers.

      The more we try find solutions to old problems the more we create new ones. If we switch to fu

      • by Trouvist (958280) on Monday November 04, 2013 @02:47PM (#45328241)
        Combustion of Hydrogen Creates Water. The hydrogen reacts quite powerfully and rapidly with the oxidizing agent (in this case, Oxygen) and creates water. If that harms the atmosphere in any way, I'd be quite surprised.
        • Actually, large scale deployment of hydrogen fuel cells will lead to significant leaks of hydrogen gas. Hydrogen gas also leaks as it diffuses through metal. Hydrogen gas depletes ozone. Not catalytically like chlorofluorocarbons do, but if you have massive and continual emissions of hydrogen, it can really do harm.
        • by bobbied (2522392) on Monday November 04, 2013 @03:12PM (#45328573)

          Creation of Hydrogen gas is only commercially viable though reforming natural gas, which produces C02 as a byproduct. Electrolysis is not cost effective and requires more electrical power than your fuel cell could produce. Generation of electrical power usually requires a release of CO2 as well.

          If you have a fuel cell that burns methane (i.e. Natural gas) or other fuels the fuel cell will have to reform it into Hydrogen (releasing CO2) before it's used. If you burn just Hydrogen, somebody else did the reforming (releasing the CO2 for you).

          The only way this works out as a plus for the environment is by making it possible to use LESS fuel for the same amount of power. And in this way it *might* work out to be marginally better, based on the possible efficiency gains of fuel cells.

          • by Belial6 (794905)
            They could use solar for daytime running, and electrolysis of water into hydrogen, and then use the hydrogen produced during the day to run their servers at night. Obviously, they would need to run the numbers to see if the cost of solar + conversion losses are cheaper or more expensive than the alternatives, but it should be a lot cleaner.

            It has always seemed to me that the obvious use for fuel cells was to act as a storage/smoothing device to be coupled with photovoltaic.
            • by bobbied (2522392)

              Your idea has merit, but there are more efficient ways to store electricity than fuel cells and hydrogen, at least on a small to midsize scale. There are no large scale examples, so I assume it is not viable at that scale either. It's just cheaper to just buy power at night.

          • by mlts (1038732) *

            I can see fuel cells being useful where natural gas is plentiful so the data center can use CNG cells as an auxiliary generator. In Europe, Truma sells a propane fuel cell for RVs so that the house batteries are always charged, even if the RV solar system is not making any wattage.

            I don't see how fuel cells can be useful as energy storage devices just due to the fact that we have electrolysis, and that's it for splitting water into its component atoms.

            Instead, why not do like solar plants do, use supercap

          • Electrolysis is not cost effective and requires more electrical power than your fuel cell could produce.

            By the same argument, power grids "are not cost effective" because they require more electrical power input than they deliver to the cu
            stomer.

            Electrolysis may be VERY cost effective. Just think of it as a different sort of energy distribution system, not as a conversion of fuel to electricity, and compare its costs to what it replaces.

            (This is similar to the bogus argument against solar panels: "They ta

          • If you have a fuel cell that burns methane (i.e. Natural gas) or other fuels the fuel cell will have to reform it into Hydrogen (releasing CO2) before it's used.

            And if you're ultimately running from fossil fuels, methane is the least carbon-emitting choice.

            Burning the hydrogen atoms to water produces MOST of the power from fossil fuels. Burning the carbon to CO2 produces a little more. But in gas and oil it's mostly there to make the hydrogen easier to handle than H2.

            Methane has four hydrogens per carbon

      • There is research to suggest that that burning hydrogen may have negative environmental impacts.

        WHAT?? What research has suggested that WATER has negative environmental impacts?

        Natural gas still has a carbon footprint and the switch to using it in wide scale production will cause a rise in price for all consumers.

        So you are assuming the electricity they are using now is free? Natural gas is the cheapest fuel, even cheaper than coal (at least in America). And a fuel cell will convert more of it into electricity than a gas turbine will. So in most cases this will result in less CO2 and lower prices (excluding the initial capital cost of the cell).

        • by NeoMorphy (576507)

          They must be thinking of the research done on Dihydrogen Monoxide!!

          http://www.dhmo.org/environment.html [dhmo.org]

        • by geekoid (135745)

          "What research has suggested that WATER has negative environmental impacts?"
          Home ownership for one. I used to love water, then I bought a home. That shit is sneaky and will destroy your home environment if given half a drip.

          Also:
          I'm pretty sure the water from a store surge could also have an environmental impact.

          You do know that in a real world, there will be other products in the air and not just Oxygen, right? Right?

          Not that any of the other waste is worth worrying about, but it's there.

          "Natural gas is th

        • by dbIII (701233)
          The hydrogen doesn't get to where you burn it by magic. Please stop pretending to be stupid enough to think so, it's demeaning.
          We should be comparing burning natural gas to using it in fuel cells instead of such hysterical sillyness.
    • So it's better to have the fuel cell at your place, rather than the fuel cells be at some electric company that then sells you the electricity at a higher price than you would pay for the "inputs".

      Assuming, of course, that the overhead of a place to keep the fuel cells & their fuel, and the extra manpower needed don't add up to more than the electric company charges you.

      • by Nethemas the Great (909900) on Monday November 04, 2013 @03:06PM (#45328505)
        I have a furnace that is hooked up to a natural gas main. I have a faucet that's hooked up to a water main. I have a water heater that's hooked up to both. They all work fine with occasional maintenance. Commercial/industrial buildings just do it on a larger scale. A fuel cell would just be another appliance hooked up to a supply main. If the technology scales well--which it does--there's no reason to add all the overhead (cost/reduced efficiency) required to centrally produce and distribute. The only problem with local/hyper-local production is the business model of power companies.
        • by mlts (1038732) *

          Fuel cells used as emergency "generators" make sense. There have been times where power may be off, but the natural gas pipes still have pressure.

          If we have advances in fuel cell technology, I'd like to see them in making small devices that work with either (or preferably both) CNG and propane. Right now, if I don't have electric and gas, my water heater and furnace become inoperable. Same with my gas dryer. Older RV refrigerators used to be able to run solely off of propane. Now, they require it and 1

          • Right now, if I don't have electric and gas, my water heater and furnace become inoperable.

            In my remote house my heat and water heater both work fine on only propane. As long as the tank is not empty we're fine (and the tank only needs filling about three times a year).

            The water heater is gas with a pilot light and no electric controls (except for the pilot light safety thermocouple, which generates enough power from the flame's heat to control the safety shutdown).

            While the regular furnace has electronic

            • by Bengie (1121981)

              As long as the tank is not empty we're fine (and the tank only needs filling about three times a year).

              That's a small LP tank or you're using a lot. I lived in a house with an LP tank that lasted about 1.5 years, so my dad could safely wait for prices to drop in the summer, and that was used for hot water and to heat a 2,500 sqrft house with A LOT of large windows. And we have cold winters up here.

          • by kermidge (2221646)

            Years ago I lived in an area where propane was commonly used for both heating and hot water. Having a fuel cell in the chain to output electricity would be golden.

            Btw, I keep seeing people saying that electrolysis for hydrogen sucks; why not use windmills to spin generators for the juice and maybe the compressors?

            • I would suspect the capital investment sours the viability relative to alternatives. There are countless alternative energy technologies, but very few that are economically feasible. ROI is an essential ingredient.
              • by kermidge (2221646)

                Sure, but when you're living halfway to the boonies, a bit of backup can trump ROI. At the moment, no, fuel cells aren't cost-efficient 'cuz there aren't a lot of them - they cost more for what they deliver than buying an off-the-shelf gasoline generator of household size. Strip that inequality away, and I think they're an interesting, and attractive, alternative. Being able to get heat and electricity with the same fuel, in this case propane, seems useful to me. Gas like anything else has its drawbacks

  • Wake me up... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Mr D from 63 (3395377) on Monday November 04, 2013 @01:31PM (#45327329)

    Give me a call when those fuel cells are ready for deployment, then we can talk about all these wonderful uses. No talk about the carbon footprint of operating fuel cells?

    The article mixes the use of fuel cells as a power source with efficiency improvements. The only place that makes sense is with the minor savings that may be seen by eliminating DC converters, but you will still need DC regulators which will have some losses.

    A major oversight of this article is the fact that fuel cells are major heat generators, not something you want in a data center. They would need to be installed in a separated structure, therefore idea that "Rack-level fuel cells would do away with data-centre-wide electricity distribution for servers" is hard to imagine.

    • The article talks about fuel cells at the data center, server, and rack levels. At the center level, this can be done today, and I guess the researchers didn't mention Bloom box [wikipedia.org]. At the server and rack level, I do agree with you that heat may be a a problem.
      • The article talks about fuel cells at the data center, server, and rack levels. At the center level, this can be done today, and I guess the researchers didn't mention Bloom box [wikipedia.org]. At the server and rack level, I do agree with you that heat may be a a problem.

        You might want to read one particular line in that product link which reads....."Assuming a 50% future cost reduction........"

        • First of all you mentioned nothing about "cost" only that to let you know when it was available for deployment and that you expressed concerns over cooling. As far as Bloom is concerned, it's available today. At the data center level, these boxes are normally installed outside and rely on ambient air cooling.

          Second you might want to read statement yourself:

          Assuming a 50% future cost reduction, one could argue that the best case scenario for the 200 kW unit would be a capital (installed) cost comparable to today's 100 kW units, i.e. . .

    • Re:Wake me up... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by girlintraining (1395911) on Monday November 04, 2013 @01:57PM (#45327691)

      A major oversight of this article is the fact that fuel cells are major heat generators, not something you want in a data center. They would need to be installed in a separated structure, therefore idea that "Rack-level fuel cells would do away with data-centre-wide electricity distribution for servers" is hard to imagine.

      Microsoft imagined tablets back in the 90s. Nobody cared. Apple imagined them a couple years ago and people wet themselves like an excited dog. You have to admit that at least part of your skepticism is based on the messenger, not just the message.

      The only thing that makes fuel cells more attractive in this scenario is that the cost is controlled; It is not tied to your geographic location. I'm sure you've read several dozen articles by now about how various data centers were built in various parts of the country due to low electricity costs, only to find that once they had built it, the utilities and local municipalities decided to jack the rates up. This famously happened to the NSA data center.

      If we had a high density energy storage solution, like fuel cells, then the local monopolistic energy companies wouldn't be able to dictate terms to anyone anymore. In effect, it would break their natural monopoly.

      All that said... let's be honest... it's still on the drawing board. Just like the flying car.

      • by orzetto (545509)

        I'm sure you've read several dozen articles by now about how various data centers were built in various parts of the country due to low electricity costs, only to find that once they had built it, the utilities and local municipalities decided to jack the rates up.

        And how are they not going to do the same for natural gas, or any other form of energy? The one you describe is a regulatory problem, not a technical one.

        • And how are they not going to do the same for natural gas, or any other form of energy? The one you describe is a regulatory problem, not a technical one.

          It may surprise you to learn, but many advancements in technology are due to "regulatory" problems. And it isn't a regulatory problem; energy service providers have a natural monopoly. Before you comment about how that's a regulatory problem, please google what a natural monopoly is. The fact is, you don't want a half-dozen power grids all in the same area competing; AC power doesn't take well to getting out of phase across the grid. And by not taking well, I mean, shit explodes. Violently. You can have man

      • Difference being Apple had an actual product for sale as in the iPad. I've yet to see the fuel cell technology produced that delivers on the promises we've been hearing for the past decade or more.

        Again, when one of these companies produces a fuel cell that can power rack level servers with low heat, then there's something to talk about.

        Until then it's a lot of pie in the sky.

        • by mlts (1038732) *

          Fuel cells are getting there, but it seems to be a matter of getting a market for it before they start becoming mainstream.

          For RV-ers, we already have Truma (Europe only) who makes propane fuel cells, and EFOY, who makes methanol based cells, both coupled with 12 volt charge controllers for RV use. These don't put out a lot of wattage (250 watt/hours), but are good enough to keep batteries topped off when one runs an RV furnace (where the fans take 7-10 amp-hours), or a laptop computer.

          Fuel cells are makin

      • You have to admit that at least part of your skepticism is based on the messenger, not just the message.

        No, my entire skepticism is based entirely on the content of the article, not the messenger. I will admit I am naturally skeptical of any claims for fuel cells as an economical solution for power supply where normal means already suffice because I have researched them for several uses and I monitor their progress. Change location to an isolated island, that would be a bit different.

      • by evilviper (135110)

        Microsoft imagined tablets back in the 90s. Nobody cared. Apple imagined them a couple years ago and people wet themselves like an excited dog

        Actually, Apple imagined them back in the 80s, and nobody cared. See the Newton.

        various data centers were built in various parts of the country due to low electricity costs, only to find that once they had built it, the utilities and local municipalities decided to jack the rates up.

        And the EXACT SAME THING could happen with the natural gas utilities just as easily.

        t

      • Microsoft imagined tablets back in the 90s. Nobody cared

        That's because Microsoft's implementation of those tablets back then SUCKED. I used some of their tablets and they simply weren't a good product. They treated a pen like a mouse and slapped some half-baked afterthought software for using pens on top of their mouse/keyboard oriented products. The result was extra cost for very little benefit to most people. They never really understood that a pen is NOT a replacement for a keyboard. A pen is ONLY useful for drawing. As a result Microsoft's tablets were

        • My 94 year old computer illiterate grandmother uses an iPad daily

          If she's using an iPad daily, she's obviously not that computer illiterate (at least not anymore).

          • by sjbe (173966)

            If she's using an iPad daily, she's obviously not that computer illiterate (at least not anymore).

            Yes she is. She is able to use only a tiny fraction of what the iPad can do - so little that the term computer illiterate still easily applies. She knows how to play a few games, look at pictures, answer (but not make) facetime calls, and a few other very basic things. Sending an email or even a text message is beyond her. (her memory isn't very good anymore which she freely admits) Her understanding of what is actually going on is close to nil and yet she can still can do a few useful/entertaining thi

      • by geekoid (135745)

        Because MS tables in the 90's sucked. Their was a strong spike in interest until the landed in hands. They where ugly, had no support, and as it turned out a key infrastructure piece was missing: Easy to load small apps delivered via wireless.

        They have tendency to focus on the great idea, but none of the ancillary pieces. Also, their marketing isn't really that good.

        I still shake my haed over the fact they made their initial Zune brown.
        Here is a turd, you can squirt files with it. In all way it was a super

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Give me a call when those fuel cells are ready for deployment

      Bloom Energy [wikipedia.org] is calling...

      • by bobbied (2522392)

        I took the call and 8-10 cents /Kilowatt Hour is decidedly NOT competitive cost numbers. Commercial power prices are less than half that at wholesale levels. Sent them to voice mail. Darn telemarketers!

    • Give me a call when those fuel cells are ready for deployment...

      Ok, what number should we call to wake you since industrial fuel cells are already available [ballard.com] and apparently work fairly well.

      • Sorry, I forgot to clarify...ready for "cost effective and practical" deployment "for this type of use case". I just figured those parts would be obvious. But those that claim Fuel Cells are ready for mass adoption don't like to talk about those qualifiers in any kind of detail.
    • Also, This [wikipedia.org] and this [wikipedia.org]. They store more energy per mass, but batteries can release power faster and have roughly as good storage capacity.

      In this case, the energy-per-mass storage capacity is not important: We're talking about hooking fuel cells to a gas distribution line, using them essentially as hydrogen or natural gas generators. This is something more like you'd do with a back-up generator (diesel, nat gas) rather than for full-time operation.

      So this is a bunch of herpderp about "Natural gas is plent

    • by Spazmania (174582)

      So, I can run lots of wire or I can run... enough gas pipes that errors are inevitable? When those servers blow up they'll really blow up!

      Plus as I'm sure you know the platinum used as a catalyst in fuel cells has no major cost to it either.

      Microsoft. Full of Win. As usual.

      • It depends on the fuel cell and the fuel. Platinum is used in lightweight, low-temperature fuel cells meant for rapid load changes (as in cars and such). If you are running from natural gas or other fuel sources, and are running with a high-temperature fuel cell, you don't need platinum.

        But people are forgetting about the distribution costs with electricity. A significant portion of the energy is lost as heat in the distribution system - both as I2R losses in the wires and inefficiencies in the transform
        • A significant portion of the energy is lost as heat in the distribution system - both as I2R losses in the wires and inefficiencies in the transformers.

          Average loss in the electrical grid from generator to customer is only 7%.

        • by Spazmania (174582)

          High temperature fuel cells. Right. You can indeed eliminate the platinum catalyst if you're willing to run the fuel cells at the better part of the temperature of molten lava.

          And they'll slag those hard drives for you when you're ready to dispose of them too.

          Of course, you can't really do that inside the cooled computer cabinet, so you don't actually eliminate power distribution within the data center that way.

    • by Quila (201335)

      Apple has been installing massive fuel cell power at its new datacenters.

    • Give me a call when those fuel cells are ready for deployment, then we can talk about all these wonderful uses. No talk about the carbon footprint of operating fuel cells?

      Natural gas (methane) has the highest energy/carbon emission ration of any saturated hydrocarbon (gas or oil) and beats the HELL out of coal. If you're going to use fossil fuels (or renewable fuel from biodegrading vegetable waste, sewage, or cow flops), and a fuel cell is in the efficiency ballpark with a grid plant, why not put the fuel

      • Remember: I-squared-R losses go up with the SQUARE of the current. So running 1.2V across a board to your chips loses 400 TIMES as much power as running 48V to the regulator next to them.

        Oops. Make that "loses 1600 times as much power". (Multiplied the 10s but forgot to multiply the 4s.)

        When a board has several chips running at 10 or more watts apiece you can easily be dealing at currents where the heating of the board consumes more power than the heating of the chips. With a rack of electronics dissipat

  • by nimbius (983462) on Monday November 04, 2013 @01:35PM (#45327377) Homepage
    Fuel Cell-Powered Data Centers Could Cut Costs and Carbon,
    belch candy and caviar,
    increase ROI, MTTF, MTBF, LMNOP,
    and even brew a cuppa tea!
    but just listen to Microsoft, dont take it from me!

    P.S.: dear god someone please use Azure. I know its not the datacenter its the cloud, but we've pissed cash into it like a shit-faced geriatric at a slot machine and so far it generates more heat than revenue...
    P.P.S: also try Bing, Windows Phone, Windows Tablet, and windows 8.1 app store moneytrain edition for workgroups. god christ i cant take another quarterly 'why arent we relevant anymore' meeting.

    --Gil in sales.
  • Considering that a major power plant typically outputs electrically about 1/3rd of its thermal power, can we invent a technology to connect a turbine to the rack cooling system? Given that processors won't directly generate steam, you may lose another 1/2 in that conversion, but that's still over 16% of the data center that could power itself...
    That's a lot less exotic than fuel cells.

    I guess someone with enough billions has already done that math and the return wasn't there...

    • by wagnerrp (1305589)
      It's called "combined heat and power". You bypass the inefficiencies of a generator and motor by using the thermal energy of the power plant directly.
    • by bobbied (2522392)

      The first three laws of thermodynamics rule that out. Not going to happen.

  • by PhantomHarlock (189617) on Monday November 04, 2013 @01:48PM (#45327543)

    ...the energy cost of separating the hydrogen from the oxygen? That is currently the Achilles heel of fuel cells. It takes more energy to do that than to burn fossil fuels or nuclear directly. Though every once in a while someone comes up with a lab-proof for doing it more efficiently. Anyone have the latest on that technology?

    • There's really nothing new wrt Hydrogen production. Methane reforming and high temperature electrolysis are the methods for bulk production. Both require a lot of energy. The DOE had at one time been working on Very High Temperature Gas Reactors (VHTR) for the purpose of supplying high enough temperature process heat to make the conversion reasonably efficient, but industry interest has not been strong enough to keep it going.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      No, they didn't. That's not the main issue as you get that back times the efficiency of the fuel cell (which is _always_ less than 1). The issue is that the energy comes from a power plant in the first place. The laws of thermodynamics can be summed up in many ways, one of which I will apply here: nothing is 100% efficient. Therefore, adding steps will always complicate what you're trying to do.

      What they have here is the fuel cost of running the power plant at normal efficiency, plus the cost of transp

    • by compro01 (777531)

      No, because they're not talking about hydrogen fuel cells. They're talking about methane fuel cells.

      • by bobbied (2522392)

        Methane requires "reforming" into hydrogen before a fuel cell can use it. Some fuel cells do it within the cell, but it happens none the less.

  • Ten years before I got ready to build I went to an Open House at a new development north of here precisely to see the house that had the fuel cell generator. At that time it was about the size of two or three large freezers and ran on natural gas.

    The tech and I talked a lot. He figured that within ten years the same product would be about the size of a cabinet freezer and perhaps $10K in cost. It would easily run on propane (which is what I knew I'd have in the mountains).

    Flash forward ten years, I
    • by geekoid (135745)

      Should have bought something on some land. Then you could build a 1Mw solar furnace yourself.

  • I actually like the idea as a concept. Fuel Cells have been used in small applications and there was talk from the Doe PNNL about a new system just last year. [gizmag.com] I think if a large scale consumer of power, Microsoft, were to start pushing the tech you'd start to see more commercial viability of these kinds of projects. I'd also advocate going the geothermal or solar route as well to look at powering data centers but ultimately I think power efficiency will render more savings. This year we've seen AMD roll [engadget.com]

  • Find all articles related to renewable energy in the last 10 years. Too many hits to count. Find all articles related to massive improvement in battery technology in the last 10 years. Too many hits to count. The broken record continues to turn.
  • by orzetto (545509) on Monday November 04, 2013 @02:05PM (#45327793)

    The article does not mention it clearly, but those fuel cells are likely natural-gas powered. They are either very high-temperature cells [wikipedia.org] (800 degrees C) or low-temperature cells (70-120 degrees C) with a reformer somewhere that converts natural gas to hydrogen. In the former case you would need to handle fuel at insanely high temperatures close to a bunch of electronics (you can guess what happens at the first leak), in the second you have to handle a hydrogen distribution network, and hydrogen is a nasty gas to work with (see for example hydrogen embrittlement [wikipedia.org]); nothing that cannot be handled, but providing it to single servers or even racks? Hydrogen-proof piping is expensive, and even worse are the valves.

    In any case, gas piping is never going to be as practical as power cords. You cannot bend it, coil it, join it easily, and you will need also piping to collect exhaust gases: since this hydrogen comes from natural gas, it travels with CO2, and you don't want it to accumulate in the data centre. You may also need another line to provide oxygen if the data centre ventilation is insufficient.

    The argument that one would do away with power supplies is foolish: simply provide a network of DC power instead for all required voltages. FCs produce DC power, but their output voltage is unsteady and needs to be converted to the right voltage; and there are several voltages that a server requires anyway.

    So, if FCs have to be, they need to be placed outside the data centre, and function as their power stations. At this point, one wonders, why should we ever consider to install FCs in power stations? Simply build a FC power station and export to the grid.

    The main driver for FCs in power generation in the US is the low price of natural gas due to high shale gas production.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I agree. You should NOT use Fedora Core in a rack server in a production environment. You should use CentOS instead.

    • by adolf (21054)

      In any case, gas piping is never going to be as practical as power cords. You cannot bend it, coil it, join it easily

      Hmm.

      The rubber gas "piping" on my propane grill is pretty easy to use and connect. It coils nicely, and survives handling and use outside, unprotected from the sun/rain/snow/heat just fine.

      Rubber not good enough? Armor it with braided strainless steel. Too easy to fray? Put another layer of rubber on the outside of the braid. (You use a rubber hose built like this every time you put gas

      • No, no, no, you don't understand what we are talking about here. First, this is hydrogen, a gas with a molecule so small it can diffuse through steel. I have never seen a rubber hose used for hydrogen and I think I know why it would leak like the sieve it would be. In the appropriate conditions hydrogen can leak through steel so fast it can sustain a continuous fire (which by heating only promotes more permeation). Natural gas is a very tame fuel compared to hydrogen. Second, a flammable gas, like hydrogen
        • by adolf (21054)

          Good stuff. I learned something (hydrogen is slippery).

          For the record, I agree: It's a whole lot of risk for zero gain. If there is a use for a power plant at a data center (be it fuel cell or otherwise), it belongs somewhere nearby/down the street/whatever, not at the rack.

  • Assuming they're going to put fuel cells into racks and power DC power supplies directly, there's all sorts of little complications to work out.

    Like -- what do you do with all that extra waste heat, and what impact would that have on overall costs, versus simply having the electricity fed in conventionally?

    And what about the safety -- or lack thereof -- of running gas lines to every rack in a large facility?

    Fuel cells don't exactly grow on trees either. The savings would have to be massive to justify the si

  • What a great idea. Fuel cells produce no nasty carbon emissions. So as long as you ignore how the hydrogen that feeds them is produced in the first place (generally from an extremely dirty and wasteful natural gas extraction process) and the pollution involved in actually making extremely expensive fuel cells in the first place, this makes perfect sense.
    • What a great idea. Fuel cells produce no nasty carbon emissions. So as long as you ignore how the hydrogen that feeds them is produced in the first place (generally from an extremely dirty and wasteful natural gas extraction process) and the pollution involved in actually making extremely expensive fuel cells in the first place, this makes perfect sense.

      Or... they could use solar cells to do it when the sun is out. Somehow you sound like one of those people who are always whingeing about how solar only works when the sun is out. Maybe it's the "eco idiots".

      • by geekoid (135745)

        Or use a solar furnaces.

        Of course, if they just built these thing where land is cheap and use a solar furnace to power them we could skip the whole fuel cells.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Because you can us solar to generate hydrogen?

  • ... looking at utility level generation in a combined cycle with absorption cooling [wikipedia.org]? At industrial levels, this cooling technology is approaching economic parity with vapor compression cooling. Even better, if the waste heat is free.

    Electricity is too easy to control compared to other energy sources in spite of a few significant examples to the contrary [slashdot.org].

  • by presidenteloco (659168) on Monday November 04, 2013 @02:34PM (#45328121)

    In the short term, the Microsoft report is about natural-gas fuelled fuel cells.
    New analyses are showing natural gas to be about equal to coal in CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions per amount of energy output.
    The reasons are basically two-fold. One, there is a lot of gas escape and energy usage during the extraction and transport of natural gas, and two, natural gas is methane, which when it escapes into the atmosphere is 20-30 times worse in greenhouse warming effect than CO2 over a 100 year lifecycle in the atmosphere.

    Now if microsoft was talking about putting in really large fields of PV or solar thermal electricity generators around each data center, and generating the hydrogen from water, then that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but then in that case, is hydrogen the best energy storage medium for a solar data center? Maybe molten salt (heat storage) or compressed air or underground pumped hydro or sodium-sulfur batteries would be better than compressed or liquid hydrogen.

  • by xtronics (259660) on Monday November 04, 2013 @03:00PM (#45328433) Homepage

    Fuel cells need ultra pure fuel in order to not spoil their extremely expensive reactors. Creating this fuel and transporting it cleanly is not cheap.

    I've seen no end of articles claiming that fuel cells are the cure to everything. Tons of grant money has flowed and no products are displacing other technology.

    The market place is far from perfect, but it is far better than any panel of pointy headed academics at providing workable solutions. M$ has shown the lack of ability to create new profitable products for many years now - this looks like yet another windoze fone effort.

    • The market may provide the most cost-effective workable solutions, but if we define the problem as "stop contributing to global warming, humanity" it is pretty clear that governments have to set a significant and growing price on carbon, then we can let the market sort out the solutions.

      Right now, the market provides no incentive to solve this problem. The market seems generally to be unable to look ahead further than a decade, and the fossil-carbon-based energy economy emissions problem is a multi-hundred-

  • Well, that little red button at the doors is suddenly going to get a lot more important. Not too keen on having automatic shut-off valves on the fuel supply to the fuel cells, especially if it is natural gas (or hydrogen gas) connected to the Emergency Power Off.

    Also curious how you deal with the CO2 exhausted from the reformers in the room. That impacts a lot of the traditional assumptions for outside air ventilation rates.

  • They could use a contained ammonia system to both cool and power the place.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absorption_refrigerator/ [wikipedia.org] The refrigerator in my RV can use 3 different heat sources to cool the contents (AC,DC and propane)

    Combine it with a multistage turbine generator with a separate natural gas powered stage and you have a working regenerative power system.

    For that matter, you don't even _really_ need to use the ammonia, you could just pipe the natural gas directly across the cooling surfaces after

  • Now a days global warming is the burning issue across the whole world.

If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants. -- Isaac Newton

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