Microsoft experiments with data centres powered by fuel cells

Microsoft is considering abandoning an electrical infrastructure to power its data centres in favour of fuel cells, according to a new report by Microsoft Research.

The research shows that the benefits of such a switch would include increased reliability and capital, as well as a reduction in operational costs and environmental emissions.

In a blogpost on Tuesday, senior research manager at Microsoft Sean James said: "We are taking an unconventional approach to power a data centre entirely by fuel cells integrated directly into the server racks.

"This brings the power plant inside the data centre, effectively eliminating energy loss that otherwise occurs in the energy supply chain and doubling the efficiency of traditional data centres."

By eliminating the loss of energy through transmission and conversion, James claims it could double the efficiency of data centres. Also, the lack of need for a battery powered back-up system would decrease costs without compromising reliability.

"We plan to install a fuel cell with servers to get first hand measurements," the Microsoft Research report concludes. "We expect interesting future research problems to be addressed along these lines to verify if the fuel cell is a useful power source for data centres."

The idea of taking data centres off the grid is not a new one. Two years ago Apple announced its own plans to set up a solar farm in North Carolina in order to power one of its data centres.