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By GCN Staff

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Can fuel cells integrated into server racks power data centers?

In a recent blog post, Microsoft senior research program manager Sean James shared the findings of a research paper on fuel cell powered data centers.

This study described the “collapse of the entire energy supply chain — from the power plant to the server motherboard — into the confines of a server single cabinet.”

The researchers show that by integrating fuel cells with IT hardware, they can cut much of the power electronics out of the conventional fuel cell system. Advantages to fuel cell powered data centers compared to traditional data centers include:

  • Improved reliability. Points of failure will be limited to a single server rack, and a battery backup is not required, so the system will be more reliable.
  • Lower infrastructure costs. The elimination of electrical distribution, backup, and transformation in the data center, as well as power conditioning equipment in the fuel cell, will reduce infrastructure costs.
  • Improved efficiency. Power effectiveness will increase, and high-efficiency fuel cells will double total system efficiency.
  • A universal data center design can be achieved. The fuel cell powered system design can be mass produced and deployed almost anywhere in the world without the difficulties of purchasing electrical equipment used for traditional systems.

However, there is still work to be done. “With the potential to double the efficiency of traditional data centers, we see tremendous potential in this approach, but this concept is not without challenges,” said James in his blog post. “Deep technical issues remain, such as thermal cycling, fuel distribution systems, cell conductivity, power management and safety training that needs to be further researched and solutions developed. But we are excited about working to resolve these challenges.”

Posted by GCN Staff on Dec 04, 2013 at 8:47 AM


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