The project, using a grant from the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program, is unusual because most data centers that use fuel cells install the fuel cells away from the servers, which requires a conversion from DC power to AC power, and then back into DC power to be used by the servers.
With the Redox Power Systems fuel cells, Microsoft plans to avoid the conversion process by distributing lots of small fuel cell stacks at the server level.
Microsoft has been working on the concept for a few years. In 2013, the company published a research paper with Global Foundation Services “No More Electrical Infrastructure: Towards Fuel Cell Powered Data Centers.” which explores a way to power a datacenter entirely by fuel cells integrated directly into the server racks.
Microsoft is also conducting a research project at its Cheyenne, Wyo., data center, which is being powered by a fuel cell power plant from FuelCell Energy. The power plant is using renewable biogas generated by a wastewater treatment facility as the fuel source.
According to Gigaom, Microsoft will be getting its first fuel cell stacks from Redox in the fall of 2015.