Microsoft tests hydrogen fuel cells for backup power at datacenters

In a worldwide first that could jumpstart a long-forecast clean energy economy built around the most abundant element in the universe, hydrogen fuel cells have powered a row of datacenter servers for 48 consecutive hours, Microsoft announced Monday.

The feat is the latest milestone in the company’s commitment to be carbon negative by 2030. To help achieve that goal and accelerate the global transition away from fossil fuels, Microsoft is also aiming to eliminate its dependency of diesel fuel by 2030.

Diesel fuel accounts for less than 1% of Microsoft’s overall emissions. Its use is primarily confined to Azure datacenters, where, like at most cloud providers around the world, diesel-powered generators support continuous operations in the event of power outages and other service disruptions.

“They are expensive. And they sit around and don’t do anything for more than 99% of their life,” said Mark Monroe, a principal infrastructure engineer on Microsoft’s team for datacenter advanced development.