Microsoft is committed to reducing carbon emissions and achieving sustainability in its operations. As a part of this commitment, the company is exploring the potential of fuel cell technology for clean energy.
Fuel cell technology involves the conversion of chemical energy from a fuel source into electrical energy, without combustion and with little to no emissions. This technology holds great promise for reducing carbon emissions and achieving a more sustainable future.
In this article, we will explore some of the fuel cell projects that Microsoft is implementing and their potential impact on the energy industry.
Microsoft’s fuel cell projects
Microsoft has long been pushing the boundaries of technology, and since 2013 that ambition has included exploring fuel cell innovation. In collaboration with UC Irvine’s National Fuel Cell Research Center they tested powering data centers using solid oxide fuel cells running on natural gas – a potential game changer in terms of efficient baseload power production. Although this revolutionary approach looks promising so far, it unfortunately remains cost-prohibitive for now.
Microsoft recently made a progressive move in the tech industry, shifting their focus to eco-friendly fuel cells as an alternative solution for backup power at datacenters. Proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells are known and used in the automotive industry due to its fast start up time and ability easily adjust with varying loads. As part of their longer-term plan towards carbon neutrality, Microsoft is investing research into PEM technology – looking toward a brighter tomorrow!
Microsoft and Plug Power joined forces to create a revolutionary PEM fuel cell system that would revolutionize the world of datacenters. This ambitious project aimed to construct an entirely green three-megawatt powerhouse, capable of replacing traditional diesel generators with sustainable backup power systems.
The Three-Megawatt Fuel Cell System
Plug Power recently unveiled the world’s largest Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cell system, an impressive three-megawatt set-up comprised of 125-kilowatt fuel cells. The cleverly designed structure is made up of shipping containers placed on a concrete pad behind its headquarters for research and development purposes – essentially building power from what would otherwise be discarded packing materials!
After intense testing and simulations applied typically only to diesel generators, Plug Power’s cutting edge high-power stationary fuel cell systems have proven their capability in the real world. Microsoft is now teaming up with them to roll out a commercialized version of these efficient units which are not just powerful but also sleekly designed – taking it one step further by installing a second generation system at an R&D datacenter, allowing both companies explore practical applications while developing safety protocols.
The Potential of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology
Hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant element in the universe, and it has long been eyed on Earth for its clean energy potential. A challenge is that while stars such as the sun consist mostly of hydrogen, on Earth, hydrogen only naturally occurs in compound form with other elements. The high cost and technology required to separate hydrogen from these natural compounds, store it, transport it, and generate power from it at scale have limited its use.
However, over the past decade, advances in hydrogen technology coupled with a growing interest in and commitment to sustainability have changed this calculus. For example, abundant and inexpensive wind and solar energy enable the cost-efficient generation of so-called green hydrogen with machines called electrolyzers. These machines use energy to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. If the energy used to run the electrolyzer is from renewables, then the hydrogen produced is considered green.
A robust green hydrogen economy could also help cities transition to 100% renewable energy. That’s because excess energy produced by wind and solar farms can be used to run electrolyzers, effectively storing this excess energy in hydrogen. Then, when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing, this green hydrogen can power fuel cells without generating any carbon emissions.
The challenges of scaling up fuel cell technology
Hydrogen is a critical ingredient in many modern technologies, but its rarity on Earth poses an obstacle to harnessing it. Fortunately, technology has advanced rapidly and innovative solutions are now available that enable us to use renewable energy sources like electrolyzers and green hydrogen production facilities to produce and store this vital resource sustainably. Plug’s scaling up of their infrastructure signals the dawn of greater access to clean fuel as demand increases around the world.
The potential impact of fuel cell technology
Fuel cells have the potential to help cities transition to 100% renewable energy. Hydrogen can be used to store excess energy produced by wind and solar farms, which can then be used to power fuel cells during periods of high demand or when renewable energy production is low. Microsoft envisions a future where datacenters are outfitted with hydrogen fuel cells, storage tanks, and electrolyzers to convert water molecules into hydrogen with excess renewable energy.
Using hydrogen as a means of storing excess renewable energy has several benefits, including reducing the demand on the grid during peak periods, providing a reliable backup power source, and reducing carbon emissions. The potential for fuel cells extends beyond datacenters and can be implemented in commercial buildings and hospitals.
Microsoft’s fuel cell projects are part of the company’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions and achieving a sustainable future. While challenges in scaling up fuel cell technology exist, the potential benefits, including using hydrogen to store excess renewable energy and reducing carbon emissions, are significant. Continued investment in fuel cell technology is necessary to achieve a sustainable future, and Microsoft and other companies in the industry are uniquely positioned to be catalysts for change.