The World’s First Gas-Powered Data Center

01/01/2018 | By Janelle Penny

energy lab

Microsoft's advanced energy lab will rely directly on natural gas and fuel cells, bypassing the energy losses typical of grid electricity, say Christian Belady, Microsoft's General Manager, and Sean James, Principal, Microsoft Cloud Infrastructure and Operations.

Microsoft’s new Seattle data center will rely directly on natural gas pipes and integrated fuel cells, bypassing the electrical grid entirely in a first-of-its-kind design.

The racks in the pilot project will directly connect to natural gas and fuel cells will replace the traditional electrical gear, Microsoft says. By eliminating the need for power plants, substations, transmission lines and voltage conversions, the 20-rack Advanced Energy Lab should suffer from significantly fewer energy losses compared to the traditional transmission process.

“With fewer pieces in the supply chain, there are fewer potential points of failure,” Microsoft says. “That helps improve the reliability of our power supply and our data centers. And with this simplification comes a reduction in cost. Eliminating electrical distribution, power conditioning and backup infrastructure makes a data center easier and less expensive to build, operate and manage.”

The company is investigating strategies to further increase efficiency once the data center is created, such as using the heat from fuel cells and servers to power a cooling system or generate additional power.

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