Microsoft is once again partnering with others to further fuel cell innovations, with the goal of developing a very efficient, low-cost fuel cell system. Microsoft, Redox Power Systems LLC, the University of Maryland and Trans-Tech Inc. were recently awarded $5 million by the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) to develop transformational fuel cells.
This research is being funded through the Reliable Electricity Based on Electrochemical Systems (REBELS) program, which seeks to encourage innovation around distributed stationary power generation by introducing technology concepts that have the potential for significantly lower costs and higher performance than existing distributed generation technologies. Though fuel cell technologies have long been recognized for high conversion efficiencies and the potential for near-zero greenhouse gas emissions, their high cost has been a major barrier to widespread adoption.
With this project, Microsoft will use its server racks to integrate and perform independent live testing on the enhanced fuel cells being created by the other companies and university. The goal is ultimately to create a system that would be significantly less expensive and more sustainable than traditional datacenter designs. “Our vision is to bring the power plant directly into the datacenter by integrating fuel cell stacks into every server cabinet, effectively eliminating energy loss that otherwise occurs in the energy supply chain and doubling the efficiency of traditional data centers,” said Sean James, Senior Research Program Manager for Microsoft Global Foundation Services.
As I’ve written before, when it comes to environmental sustainability, Microsoft believes strongly in the importance of partnerships to help drive innovation. One partnership with the city of Cheyenne, the University of Wyoming and Fuel Cell Energy aims to build the first zero carbon datacenter, designed to run on biogas from landfills or water treatment plants. Meanwhile, a proof-of-concept datacenter that would mount fuel cells directly onto the datacenter’s server racks was successfully demonstrated at the National Fuel Cell Research Center at the University of California, Irvine. Most recently, we announced a three-year agreement with the University of Texas at San Antonio to research and develop distributed generation technologies that will transform how datacenters consume energy.
We look forward to sharing more progress in the future, and be sure to check back on the Microsoft Green blog for more on what else Microsoft is doing transform the energy supply chain. You can read the University of Maryland’s press release here.