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Summary:

Will Microsoft be the latest Internet company to buy fuel cells from Bloom Energy to provide power for its data centers? Microsoft says it is looking for backup power sources that could use natural gas and could replace its diesel generators.

Will Microsoft be the latest data center operator to use fuel cells from Bloom Energy for its data centers? In a blog post last week (hat tip Data Center Knowledge) Microsoft’s Utility Architect Brian Janous writes that Microsoft is looking for new backup power options that could use natural gas.

Microsoft currently uses a lot of diesel generators — which are dirty burning and costly — as a means to provide emergency backup power for its data centers in case the grid in the area goes down. But Microsoft both wants to reduce its carbon footprint (it wants to be carbon neutral) and also not be so dependent on the grid. Janous writes:

We are currently exploring alternative backup energy options that would allow us to provide emergency power without the need for diesel generators, which in some cases will mean transitioning to cleaner-burning natural gas and in other cases, eliminating the need for back-up generation altogether.

Bloom Energy’s fuel cells could provide that natural gas-consuming — or even biogas consuming — back up power. Fuel cells take fuel (natural gas or biogas) and combine it with oxygen and other chemicals to create an electrochemical reaction that produces electricity. Fuel cells can produce fewer carbon emissions than generators or the grid, can be more efficient than both generators and the grid, and can enable a site to be grid independent.

Microsoft has used fuel cells before for a data center research project, and used biogas to power those fuel cells. Biogas is created when organic matter is broken down, often times in an anaerobic digester and the gas is captured. An anaerobic digestor is a closed tank that doesn’t let any oxygen in, and enables anaerobic bacteria to digest the organic material at a nice, warm temperature. Biogas can come from sources like landfills, hog, chicken and cow farm waste, and waste water treatment plants.

Bloom Energy has been able to sell its fuel cells to a growing amount of data center companies throughout 2012. Apple and eBay are both investing in buying Bloom boxes for their data centers. On the other hand, companies like Facebook have experimented with fuel cells and found them not to pay off financially. Bloom Energy launched a data center focus earlier this year to appeal to these Internet companies.

  1. I hope so… I am a big believer in Fuel Cell Technology… Go Microsoft! I wanted to share a couple of links that show the potential of USA developed Fuel Cell Technology… Hope you like them…

    Hybrid Nat Gas System used in transportation of Nat Gas through pipelines (video)

    http://enbridge.rawintegrated.com/hybrid/hybrid_complete.html

    New fuel cell sewage gas station in Orange County, CA may be world’s first”

    http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news/local/orange_county&id=8310315

    “It is here today and it is deployable today,” said Tom Mutchler of Air Products and Chemicals Inc., a sponsor and developer of the project.

    Question: ” If it is here today and it is deployable today ” Why are we not using it TODAY???

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  2. Photo’s: World’s largest fuel cell park open for business (In South Korea???)

    http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/intelligent-energy/photos-worlds-largest-fuel-cell-park-is-open-for-business/10391

    Why are these systems NOT being used in the USA where they were developed (with tax payer money???)

    Where is the leadership in Congress/ Senate???

    Every time a storm blows through we have power outages???

    If its cost effective to ship them to South Korea I think we should be using them here in the USA???

    Let our congressman and senators send their kids to the middle east to secure some oil field if they think its such a good idea.

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  3. Not to belittle msft’s effort but this is for backup power. It isn’t going to reduce their carbon footprint one bit, well maybe for the one day a year it might use it.

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    1. georgemcgrady@gmail.com Tuesday, September 18, 2012

      Look into how eBay is using the thirty Bloom Boxes it has on order; 24/7/365 usage with no gen sets or UPS’s

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  4. This is interesting for Microsoft but they operate at a very difference scale compared to what would make sense for smaller providers. A good response along these lines is http://www.standalone-sysadmin.com/blog/2012/09/and-if-every-fortune-50-company-jumped-off-a-bridge/

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  5. Greg Samuelson Friday, November 9, 2012

    No … Bloom fuel cells are way to expensive! Fuel Cell Energy has the right system for bio gas…

    http://trib.com/business/energy/wyoming-business-council-approves-bond-for-cheyenne-biogas-fuel-cell/article_f6190d84-3227-59e8-a567-38a6b6c22981.html?comment_form=true

    “The project will bring together Microsoft; Cheyenne Light, Fuel and Power; Fuel Cell Energy; the Western Research Institute; and the University of Wyoming”.

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  6. Richard Harrison Saturday, November 17, 2012

    Nope… but who cares… Fuel Cell Technology is in play which is good for everyone.

    http://trib.com/business/energy/wyoming-business-council-approves-bond-for-cheyenne-biogas-fuel-cell/article_f6190d84-3227-59e8-a567-38a6b6c22981.html

    “This is a unique economic development opportunity,” Dave Simonsen, the council’s community facilities program manager, told the board. “This project helps to put Wyoming on the leading edge of integrating fuel-cell technology.”

    The project will bring together Microsoft; Cheyenne Light, Fuel and Power; Fuel Cell Energy; the Western Research Institute; and the University of Wyoming.

    Microsoft plans to build a small data center near the city’s Dry Creek Water Reclamation Facility. The center would be powered entirely by a gas-burning fuel cell.

    “It puts states like Wyoming with abundant supplies of natural gas in a very good position for all new data centers looking to utilize this type of design,” he said.

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