Microsoft today announced that they partnering with Redox Power Systems LLC, the University of Maryland and Trans-Tech Inc. to develop a very efficient, low-cost fuel cell system. Microsoft and its partners 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. Microsoft will contribute this project by using its server racks to integrate and perform independent live testing on the enhanced fuel cells being created by the other companies and ...

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Last year, Microsoft Research revealed that they are working on an unconventional approach to power a datacenter entirely by fuel cells integrated directly into the server racks. Today, they announced that they have successfully demonstrated the concept at the National Fuel Cell Research Center at UC Irvine. A rack of servers powered directly off the direct current (DC) output of the fuel cell stack, essentially stripping out most of the infrastructure found in the traditional data center energy supply chain. As a result, you will have a very efficient system with a radically simplified supply chain and fewer points of potential failure. But aren’t fuel cells much more expensive than conventional generation technology?  On a pure levelized cost of energy (LCOE) basis, an off-the-shelf fuel cell system will not be cost competitive with conventional generation. In other words, the cost of electrons coming out of the conventional power plant will ...

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