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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".
  • 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 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.
  • 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.

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