Data Center Power Featured Articles
Moving Data Centers from Electrical Infrastructure to Fuel Cells
The power requirements for data centers between 2011 and 2012 grew by 63 percent globally to 38 gigawatts. Just in case you're wondering, 1 Gw can power anywhere between 700,000 to 1,000,000 homes, depending on some variables. Even though the industry is making a concerted effort to implement green energy technology, it is growing at such a fast rate its energy needs are still quite substantial. In a research paper titled “No More Electrical Infrastructure: Towards Fuel Cell Powered Data Centers” by Microsoft (News - Alert) Research, the researchers address the issue of powering data centers entirely by fuel cells integrated directly into the server racks.
Researchers are on their way to collapse the entire energy supply chain so the energy a data center needs will be confined into a single cabinet of a server. While that sounds extraordinarily optimistic, the technology exists to make these changes using fuel cells.
The fuel cell market is rapidly maturing because many industries are trying to implement this technology in the products and services they offer. The automotive industry is especially making great headway by making large investments in different fuel cell technologies. The solutions it is creating will be available not only for the IT industry but wherever energy is needed.
The researchers found integrating server racks with small-form fuel cells and IT equipment provided benefits over traditional data center designs. Because each rack has its own power source, any failure will be limited to a single rack, thereby providing higher power availability by reducing points of failure. Operators will have more control by cutting or providing the energy supply chain from the power plant into individual modules. If there is an electrical disruption, virtualization technology makes the impact to the customer negligible.
This technology will also make the infrastructure costs for these data centers much lower by eliminating electrical distribution and backup. Compared to traditional data centers in which 80 percent of the energy is lost from the power plant to the server, total system efficiency from the fuel cell to the chip would double.
Some of these fuel cell technologies are:
Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cells work with a polymer electrolyte in the form of a thin, permeable sheet with cell outputs range from 50 to 250 kW
Phosphoric Acid fuel cells (PAFC) use phosphoric acid as the electrolyte. It has outputs up to 200 kW, and 11 MW units have been tested
Molten Carbonate fuel cells (MCFC) use high-temperature compounds of salt like sodium or magnesium carbonates chemically, CO3 as the electrolyte with output up to 2 megawatts (MW) have been constructed, and designs exist for units up to 100 MW.
Alkali fuel cells operate on compressed hydrogen and oxygen with cell output ranges from 300 watts to 5 kilowatts.
The only thing stopping data centers from cutting the cord from the electrical grid is the cost of current fuel-cells and the reliability of the technology from an end-to-end service point of view. Understanding the dependency and failure rates of fuel-cell technology architecture is a critical component in gaining acceptance in the industry, and more research is needed to convince operators to change their energy supply.
Edited by Rory J. Thompson
Data Center Power Resources
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