Critical infrastructure facilities cannot rely on the functionality of the public electricity grid. That is why there is still a self-sufficient emergency power supply there. Until now, mainly diesel-powered power generators have been used for this. Although these do not have the best environmental and climate balance, they can intervene quickly and reliably in the event of calamities. Until now, Microsoft has also relied on diesel to continue operating the company’s data centers in the event of a power outage. However, this could become a problem in the future. The group is committed to completely eliminating the use of fossil fuels by 2030. This also applies to the emergency power supply. A climate-neutral alternative has therefore now been tested in Latham in the American state of New York: fuel cells convert hydrogen into electricity on site and thus provide the desired self-sufficient emergency power supply.
100 tons of hydrogen is enough for 48 hours of self-sufficient operation
The system required for this was developed by Plug. In principle, these are eighteen fuel cells with a proton exchange membrane, which are placed in two sea containers. The test, which was carried out under absolutely realistic conditions, has now shown that the required amount of electricity of three megawatts can actually be achieved in this way. That is a significant improvement compared to the previous test: in 2020 only 250 kilowatts of power could be achieved. But now Microsoft knows for sure that it can actually rely on hydrogen and fuel cells in an emergency. However, huge amounts of valuable gas are needed. The company estimates that about 100 tons of hydrogen will need to be processed to power the entire data center for 48 hours. This is where the question of the origin of the gas comes in.
The solution is only climate neutral if green hydrogen is used
Because fuel cells are only truly climate neutral if they run on so-called green hydrogen. In concrete terms, this means that green electricity was used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen in an electrolyzer. However, the current test still uses hydrogen, an industrial by-product of the production of chlorine and sodium hydroxide. The background may also be that the demand for green hydrogen is currently considerably greater than the supply. In the future, however, Microsoft wants to rely solely on the pure green power variant. If the technology subsequently proves itself in use in data centers and similar facilities, it can eventually be used in other vital infrastructure facilities. A classic example is hospitals. And expensive hotels in countries with an insecure public power supply can also improve their climate balance and replace diesel generator.