back to article Microsoft runs a data centre on hydrogen for 48 whole hours, reckons it could kick hydrocarbon habit by 2030

Microsoft has revealed that it ran racks full of servers for 48 hours using electricity generated by hydrogen fuel cells, but the company's aspiration to use the tech again needs careful scrutiny. Redmond says the cells used proton exchange membrane technology that output 250kW to run "a row of datacenter servers for 48 …

  1. Chris G Silver badge

    Hydrogen is not the answer

    While on the face of it,solar derived hydrogen cells look like a clean, CO2 free solution, making all that 'clean' hydrogen from abundant, free seawater has other consequences

    As is becoming clear with the desalination of seawater the byproduct is concentrated brine, denser than normal seawater, if not disposed of correctly it can sink to the ocean floor and kill off everything there.

    If we then add to the effluent from desalination by going industrial with solar powered electrolysis of seawater to produce huge amounts of hydrogen, it will be one more major threat to our already highly threatened oceans.

    Particularly those areas close to coastlines.

    1. Steve Button

      Re: Hydrogen is not the answer

      Not sure about that. If you put your plant anywhere near a big enough river outlet you'd think that would water it down nicely? When you go on holiday to a small island, the sea water is far more salty, because... no rivers.

      1. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921 Bronze badge

        Re: Hydrogen is not the answer

        Hydrogen destroys the ozone layer - the many tiny leaks in large scale systems will roast all life on earth

        1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge
          Holmes

          Re: Hydrogen is not the answer

          Downvoted for needless hyperbole.

    2. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: Hydrogen is not the answer

      I get your point (look at issues in the Dead sea), but it doesn't take a genius to use the brine as a by product, i.e. sea salt.

      It's worked for beer and spirits for centuries, malt...old whisky barrels etc.

      1. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: Hydrogen is not the answer

        The problem is the sheer scale of the brine produced, there is only so much use for sea salt, one small plant could produce enough salt to keep you in chips for decades.

        Discharging brine into rivers could have serious longterm effects on the ecology and it's balance, possibly causing irreparable damage.

        There is a wealth of research into the problems but still with no real answers, each site needs to have a thorough impact study performed because currents vary with topography and season, some site could possibly handle ten times the effluent compared to a similar looking site.

        I have been involved in developing a domestic, solar water treatment system for some years, most of the technical problems to produce a product are surmountable, the effluent is one of the most difficult problems to overcome.

        1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

          Re: Hydrogen is not the answer

          Why would anyone discharge brine into rivers? If the hydrogen plant gets its water from a river, there would be no brine to discharge. If it makes hydrogen from seawater, the leftover brine would be discharged back into the sea. I can't see it needs be a problem. Just arrange the discharge pipe to open into an area that has a reasonable current, and the brine will diffuse rapidly enough to remain diluted. Meanwhile the hydrogen produced will eventually recombine with oxygen when it is used and produce pure water, which will get back into the oceans. Therefore the total salinity of the oceans will remain the same long-term.

          1. bombastic bob Silver badge
            Happy

            Re: Hydrogen is not the answer

            If the hydrogen plant gets its water from a river, there would be no brine to discharge.

            an undeniable point. Common sense, WHAT a concept!

        2. CountCadaver Bronze badge

          Re: Hydrogen is not the answer

          dry the brine and sell the leftover salt to colder nations for road salt? Or other industrial processes

    3. katrinab Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: Hydrogen is not the answer

      Wouldn't you be better off using the solar panels to charge batteries?

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Hydrogen is not the answer

        Why not use PV to make 2H2 and O2. Use the H2 in fuel cells. Use the O2 to raise the efficiency of any thermodynamic energy production - burning diesel in pure O2 results in NO NOx and over 90% efficiency so nearly halving the CO2 per bang. H2 can be stored easily - we used to have massive gasometers in every town in the UK and their storage capacity is quite large. Now if we did that in the US deserts - massive PV, Make H2 and O2 to store separately to make electricity when its dark or in other times of need. So only a limitied amount of water is required - no saline problems.

        It always amuses me that nay-sayers come up with arguments that, if used when the first internal combustion engine had been invented we'd still be knee deep in horseshit.

        I'm not sure we will get to a 'hydrogen economy' but I can certainly see it as a massive part of the solution. I read in the late 80s/early 90s that the electricity->H2->electricity energy cycle could achieve over 80% efficiency (this include usage of waste heat but not recycling the O2) and yet people scream it wont work as they heat their houses on gas at the same level of efficiency and with greater pollution.

        1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

          Re: Hydrogen is not the answer

          Hydrogen can't be stored "easily". It has a habit of making its way through a variety of different container materials, causes hydrogen embrittlement leading to container vessel failures, and either requires:

          a) massive volumes to store a significant mass, or...

          b) cryogenc storage to get down to manageable volumes, which in turn needs massive amounts of power to keep it cold. And you don't want to be near it if the cooling system fails.

        2. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: Hydrogen is not the answer

          burning diesel in pure O2 results in NO NOx and over 90% efficiency

          Although the 90% efficienty claim breaks the 2nd law of thermodynamics (you would need a temperature of more than 2700 C to obtain a Carnot efficiency of 90%, let alone a real world efficiency of 90%, and last I checked most metals would fail to hold integrity at that temperature...) but it's not likely for a number of OTHER reasons as well.

          Still the idea of using pure O2 and fossil fuels is not a new one. Rockets. And at very high altitudes, inject O2 into a regular jet turbine engine. The only problem is getting pure O2 in sufficient volume to make this happen. So if you could solve THAT problem [currently cryogenic methods are the most efficient method I know of to get pure O2, and it takes a LOT of electricity to do that] then O2 bottles for your diesel engine might be a good idea. If for no other reason, spike up the O2 to increase efficiency.

          Still, I think it'd melt...

          NOTE: Rockets avoid the melting problem by using incoming fuel to cool the nozzles, and also spraying a layer of fuel onto the inside of the engine. it's a bit less efficient, but the evaporating fuel would (to some extent) protect the metal of the engine from being melted. Burning with pure O2 tends to make welding-temperature flames and as such the metal just metls.

      2. Cynic_999 Silver badge

        Re: Hydrogen is not the answer

        Batteries take time to charge and do not have a good power to weight ratio.

        1. katrinab Silver badge

          Re: Hydrogen is not the answer

          Hydrogen also takes time to produce, and doesn't have a good power to volume ratio, far more important in cases where you aren't carrying it around.

          1. CountCadaver Bronze badge

            Re: Hydrogen is not the answer

            Best solution I've heard is to use for example Scotland's surplus of renewable energy to produce hydrogen via electrolysis held in a storage vessel next to a converted gas power station (Peterhead for example) To use when you need a rapid input of power to the grid.

            Alternatively blend produced hydrogen with methane to reduce the CO2 footprint of mains gas (something thats already being looked at seriously)

    4. Mike 137 Silver badge

      Re: Hydrogen is not the answer

      Sounds like a seriously wasteful energy cycle:

      [1] use solar generated electricity to electrolyse hydrogen from water

      [2] compress hydrogen using (very likely) electric power

      [3] use hydrogen fuel cells to generate electricity

      1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: Hydrogen is not the answer

        Sounds like a seriously wasteful energy cycle:

        Sure, but it's Green! Clean! And thus has excited politicians who see it as a solution to problems they've created. Those are mostly around decarbonisation targets, but the latest EU budget has also decided to go hydrogen.

        In the UK, challenges are mostly due to our Climate Change Act, and decarbonising heating, transportation and energy generation. Transportation means banning petrol and diesel, so forcing EVs, or hydrogen burning vehicles. So creates a massive increase in demand for electricity, and H2.

        Then there's the silent killer.. Heating. So from 2025 UK homes can't have gas for heating or cooking, and by gas, I mean good'ol methane. That means even more demand for electricity, or an alternative gas, namely hydrogen.

        This is not a problem, at least politically. So existing gas appliances can (and must) be converted to burn hydrogen. That can be done in say, 1 hour per device.. But once converted, they can't burn gas again. So can't be used until the supply is switched to hydrogen. So all that would need is to arrange periods where supply is disconnected to an area, and a swarm of engineers do the conversion, then let the hydrogen flow. Simple! A few summers, and it'll be all good. Any properties that are missed will soon be apparent by simply listening for the explosions.

        But that's just the price of progress.. H2 being colorless, odorless, explosive and material enhancing is the future.. As long as all the supply infrastructure has H2 compatible pipes, it's all good. Gas supply companies can change their stickers to 'If you smell gas, don't call us' and partner with double glazing companies for when there are gas leaks.

        But then there are some other boring little details. So hydrogen has a lower calorific value than methane, so we'll need more of it to get the same effect. Expect gas supply companies to meter by volume, not therm or Btu, if they're not already. It'll cost more though because of the huge costs for decarbonisation.

        Then there's the challenge of producing massive quantities of hydrogen. So currently the best way is steam reformation of methane. So as you say, lots of energy needed to convert gas into less efficient hydrogen. And then what to do with the CO2.. Which may not be a problem. There'll be subsidies for hydrogen production, and for CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage), and gas companies have storage. And there are already subsidies for 'Green' energy production, so if you have that, you can probably make more from subsidies than product.

        But solar is just one waste of money.. I mean energy source. If there's surplus energy from solar, that could be used for hydrogen production. But that energy would be expensive. Then of course there's wind, so periods where wind blows, but electricity demand isn't there. So wind farmers get 'constraint payment' bungs, but think they could be making hydrogen. But electricity demand is going to increase, so where does the energy for hydrogen production come from?

        But TL;DR is EU & UK energy policy is a complete clusterfunk, and consumers are going to pay for Green virtue signalling and will have no effect on the 'climate'.

        1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

          Re: Hydrogen is not the answer

          Hydrogen may be odourless - but the fuel gasses we currently use have little smell of their own. That's why a very smelly substance (e.g. mercaptan) is added to natural gas, allowing its escape to be readily detected. The same can and almost certainly will be the case should hydrogen see widespread use as a fuel.

          While natural gas is more dense than air and so sinks, hydrogen is less dense and so rises. This means that in most places there is less chance of hydrogen "pooling" and creating a dangerous buildup than hydrogen.

          1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

            Re: Hydrogen is not the answer

            While natural gas is more dense than air and so sinks, hydrogen is less dense and so rises. This means that in most places there is less chance of hydrogen "pooling" and creating a dangerous buildup than hydrogen.

            Again there's the challenge of a lack of joined up thinking. So we're also supposed to be 'improving' insulation and draught proofing homes to make them less well ventilated. But biggest challenge will still be producing enough hydrogen, then figuring out distribution & cut-over from CH4 to H2 without stuff exploding. Or customer's noticing both cost and futility.

            1. CountCadaver Bronze badge

              Re: Hydrogen is not the answer

              The current plan is seemingly to blend H2 with CH4 to produce a hybrid gas that reduces CO2 output with an eventualy switch over (potentially) to pure H2 (don't think that will ever happen) I think I've heard something like 30/70 H2/CH4 mentioned

              1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

                Re: Hydrogen is not the answer

                The current plan is seemingly to blend H2 with CH4 to produce a hybrid gas that reduces CO2 output..

                Yup. Back to the future! So in shades of re-imagining windmills, we'll be going back to using Town Gas, just without the CO. Hopefully.

                But unless the CO2 is entirely eliminated, the UK won't hit our Climate Change Act targets. And blended gas would still have a lower calorific value, so less efficient.. And then there's the cost of checking/replacing 500K km of gas pipes, especially given to get the same energy output, pressure would need to be increased, increasing the risk of embrittlement.. And then there's replacing meters & modifying appliances. And of course sourcing the H2.

                On the plus side, costs can be passed on to gas users.. But given the enormity of those costs (plus rewiring the grid to support EVs), that's unlikely and energy costs will just continue to rocket. So increased energy poverty, decreased economic efficiency & competitiveness, and all to signal virtue.

          2. nijam

            Re: Hydrogen is not the answer

            > ...less chance of hydrogen "pooling" ...

            unless your rooms have ceilings, of course.

            1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Re: Hydrogen is not the answer

              That'll teach those tall basterds

      2. Carlitos911

        Re: Hydrogen is not the answer

        Not really.

        You're forgetting about the important bit: energy availability.

        The thing about stand-by diesel generators, or the hydrogen fuel cells Microsoft has been testing, is that you can spin them up quite fast, and on demand.

        You see, wind turbines generate electricity whenever there's wind, but that doesn't necessarily match with when you need electricity, so using this "excess" electricity to produce hydrogen, which you can then quickly turn back into electricity when you need more electricity, is actually a pretty clever idea.

        TL; DR: Neither is a great use of energy, but diesel and hydrogen are good ways to store energy and have it available as electricity in a moment's notice.

    5. Annihilator Silver badge

      Re: Hydrogen is not the answer

      "As is becoming clear with the desalination of seawater the byproduct is concentrated brine, denser than normal seawater, if not disposed of correctly it can sink to the ocean floor and kill off everything there."

      You're forgetting what happens to the hydrogen ultimately - it goes into a power cell and turns back into water, ultimately making its way back to the oceans.

      I think of all the problems hydrogen has, making the sea briefly saltier isn't really one of them.

    6. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Hydrogen is not the answer

      your argument about brine is not very significant. In short, desalination plants (we have them in California) for producing fresh water do the SAME thing. It is my understanding that there are already a lot of eyes looking at this, and they're not really finding amything significant [or we would have heard about it by now], and at one time I was somewhat connected to a group of people who were into monitoring this kind of thing... so yeah I'm pretty well informed. In short, it's pretty much a "nothing burger" but as for oceanography, no harms in monitoring sea water salinity in these areas.

      And I hear that brine shrimp thrive in the effluent... which would feed more fish, etc.

      In an ironic similarity, treated water from sewage plants has LESS salinity in it. Maybe we could just mix them...

      And let us not forget that one of the CHEAPESTS way to make Hydrogen in large quantity involves COAL... and electrolytic methods PROBABLY use fossil fuel generated electricity!

      All that being said, CO2 isn't a problem anyway. Something about NOT absorbing black body radiated infrared energies that correspond to ACTUAL TEMPERATURES FOUND ON EARTH...

    7. Chris the bean counter Bronze badge

      Re: Hydrogen is not the answer

      Hydrogen only works if solar is cheap enough. Thanks to wrights law and zero interest rates it is, epecially in politically stable places like Australia and Texas (Regulation lite compared to California so swifter take up of renewables)

      At that point you can extract water from the atmosphere which would only add a small overhead to the electrolysis process.

  2. Phones Sheridan
    Flame

    Hold on, the tanks on the left have a fence behind them, and bollards in front. I want to see how they the trailer there!

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Picture

      The picture at the top of the referenced article has clearly been Photoshopped!

      The left hand set of tanks clearly 'chop' the top of the right hand yellow bollard. And when you look closer, the shadows on the three sets of tanks are not consistent with each other and the building on the left!

      Shoddy work by Microsoft PR.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Picture

        I didn't see, or look for it at first, but this really is very poorly Photoshopped Image, why on earth would they cheat us on such a subject...

        The shadow of the bollards corresponds to that of the trailer on the far right, the sun was quite low, whilst the cylinders clearly show an image with a midday shadow.

        Then there's that strange shadow of the fence in between the centre and right hand trailers....

        And what are those cylinders supposed to be feeding ? Is it supposed to be that "flexible" hose that runs into the building, were talking hydrogen here, a tiny atom that is difficult to contain within even non porous structures and yet here we are with flexible hoses,,,

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Very likely the bollards were put there after the tanks were installed to stop people driving into them. A large quantity of hydrogen, stored under pressure, is something to be wary of.

      And, as you say, they look a lot more like tanks than fhe fuel cells TFA implies.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        They are retractable bollards (sink into the ground), but as has been said in other comments, due to the fact the photo is a fake, it doesn't matter as the bollards are not in the way of anything as the tanks were photoshopped in there.

  3. Elledan Bronze badge
    Mushroom

    Hydrogen is a solution and its own worst enemy

    While hydrogen as an energy carrier (not a fuel like diesel) does seem attractive if one just looks at the hydrogen + oxygen => water + power equation, it omits 99% of what makes hydrogen so complicated.

    From manufacturing hydrogen, which today is mostly done using the reforming of natural gas (releasing CO2 in the process), to storing (super-high pressure, super-low (liquid) temperature storage, binding to nickel, etc.) and transport (see storage), hydrogen is not an easy gas to handle.

    Hydrogen causes metal embrittlement, as it'll change the material while it seeps through the storage tank or transport pipe's sides. It also becomes highly explosive when mixed with almost no or a lot of oxygen. In the past few years there have been at least two major explosions at hydrogen refueling facilities (Norway & California).

    Even assuming that the hydrogen is produced using wasteful electrolysis (throwing away >50% of the input power), it would need to stored in a way that is reliable enough that you'll still have some hydrogen left by the time that the emergency occurs that requires the fuel cells. High-pressure storage is leaky. Cold-storage is reliable, but requires a lot of power and means that once the power fails, you need to also power the cooling system. Releasing hydrogen bound to nickel is a super slow process.

    Fuel cells themselves come with a share of issues. They run very, very hot (hundreds of degrees), their internal surface can become contaminated (from impure input gases) which reduces reaction speed and they do not last forever.

    There is a reason why diesel and gas generators are so popular. Can just keep a few cans of fuel lying around without special precautions and the generator will usually Just Work (tm) if you provide it with an occasional bit of TLC. Diesel and gasoline are also rather safe, with diesel practically impossible to ignite and gasoline vapours being the major hazard, if you can get it properly mixed with oxygen.

    I wish Microsoft luck on this project, but it sounds like this 'backup system' might require its own backup system, at least until they have worked out the kinks with the hydrogen system.

    1. SlOrbA

      Re: Hydrogen is a solution and its own worst enemy

      "I wish Microsoft luck on this project, but it sounds like this 'backup system' might require its own backup system, at least until they have worked out the kinks with the hydrogen system."

      It is in a sense good that Backup systems are more esoteric as they are meant to cope with highly unlikely circumstances. So using energy source that others are not going deplete is relevant strategy for business continuity.

    2. DJO Silver badge

      Re: Hydrogen is a solution and its own worst enemy

      You missed out the energy requirements in compressing Hydrogen for storage and the massive costs that would be entailed in rolling out Hydrogen distribution infrastructure.

      Biofuels are a far superior "green" fuel, no storage problems, can use existing distribution infrastructure and as second generation biofuels use agricultural waste instead of primary food production the the valid argument that biofuels displace food production no longer apply.

      1. Elledan Bronze badge

        Re: Hydrogen is a solution and its own worst enemy

        One major issue with biofuels is of course that they are still polluting the way fossil fuels are, even if they do not cause the same carbon-related issues. Especially the production of fine dust (PM2.5) which causes and exacerbates COPD issues and has been linked to thousands of deaths per year from fossil fuel, natural gas and biofuel plants.

        I do think that something like syngas (which can be produced from heating wood chips and such) might be an acceptable in-between solution here. It should be far cleaner than just burning wood.

        1. DJO Silver badge

          Re: Hydrogen is a solution and its own worst enemy

          Good point on the PM2.5.

          We've dealt with one emission problem with catalytic converters, could some form of filtering, perhaps a vortex filter instead of a mesh or maybe an electrostatic method to separate out the dust could be developed to ameliorate the problem.

          Shouldn't be a huge problem on fixed installations, might be trickier on mobile ones like cars.

      2. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: Hydrogen is a solution and its own worst enemy

        using biofuel production to consume agricultural waste IS a good idea on its own. It is possible to convert bio waste into oil. The process that I read about is actually EXOTHERMIC. You could then use this bio-synthetic oil to add to existing oil production, thus "offsetting" either a) trash production wasted as landfill, or b) whatever environmentalists decide is "helping". Either way it's a win-win so unless there's cost prohibition making it completely impractical, I say "go for it".

        Note that SOME of this agricultural waste goes into composting and may still be useful as animal feed. So whatever does best for farmers, probably should do THAT first.

        1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          Re: Hydrogen is a solution and its own worst enemy

          using biofuel production to consume agricultural waste IS a good idea on its own. It is possible to convert bio waste into oil.

          Some of that's already done. So the US is big into growing corn to turn into ethanol, which is then used to adulterate fuel and reduce efficiency/mileage. There's also waste digestors that turn food waste into biogas.

          Problem is even assuming everyone in the West is persuaded (or forced) to go vegetarian/vegan, there wouldn't be enough waste to produce enough food.. Especially given normal business rules, ie produce as little waste as possible. It's one of those things that's probably best done small-scale, eg it's possible to make fuel with a wood gasifier, but there's a bunch of YT videos showing people doing that and it takes a lot of wood to make a little fuel.

    3. Jim84

      Re: Hydrogen is a solution and its own worst enemy

      The best way to store hydrogen is the traditional way - attached to carbon.

      How to make methanol cheaper than the energy equivalent amount of gasoline from seawater and the CO2 disolved in it using molten salt nuclear heat:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1Fi3BnwL94&t=272s

    4. hoola Bronze badge

      Re: Hydrogen is a solution and its own worst enemy

      If this puts more effort in developing fuel cells and hydrogen production so that they become usable as a mobile fuel source then it is commendable. Using fuel cells in place of batteries & generators as a UPS/backup power supply is also worthwhile. Using fuel cells to power fixed infrastructure as a permanent solution is stupid. You have to use more energy in the source to destination chain due to the conversion losses at the different stages.

      I suppose if we can extract hydrogen more efficiently then fuel cell do become an interesting solution when combined with solar or wind. It would be interesting to see the overall efficiency of producing 1KW of power at output for:

      lead acid

      lithium

      fuel cell

      Assuming an intermittent renewable source such as solar or wind.

    5. Chris the bean counter Bronze badge

      Ammonia is the answer

      Easier to store and transport plus a marketable product in its own right.

      Yes even less efficient than hydrogen but the scenario is based on super cheap electricity from solar.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RFC Electric Greenhouses 1GW = 20 SQMLs

    Large scale greenhouses can be used to replace power stations for electrical power generation. The plants grown inside the greenhouse are pulverised and desiccated before use as the fuel source for the electrical generation. The heat and the CO2 released in the combustion process are captured (and recaptured) within the gas impermable greenhouse, providing a huge acceleration in plant growth. A jungle in a bottle. To achieve reliable 24h/365d power delivery to the national grid the greenhouse must therefore use the ground as very large thermal store and have an appropriate lighting system.

    Pros

    Reliable power delivery 24h/365d unlike PV and wind. Good as they are.

    No CO2 released (handy for carbon neutrality by 2030) Gas impermable.

    No H20 released (handy for a deserts, but Brownfield and Opencast site with broken ecosystems can be used.

    No fossil fuels usage

    A greenhouse reliable technology that has been available for use for 120 years.

    Power for 300,000 homes.

    Cons

    50 square kilometres/ 20 square miles produces to a gigawatt. 4.5*4.5 mls

    or 100mw = 2sq miles.

    Cost irrelevant, carbon neutral by 2030. Shovel ready in two months, if taken seriously.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: RFC Electric Greenhouses 1GW = 20 SQMLs

      The best plants (the one they make tequila from) can manage to convert 5% of light into power. We can do 5 times that with PV and nearer 90% utilising the suns heat directly to heat things that need heating - you could make a solar Bessemer converter but probably not in the Midlands of the UK.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: RFC Electric Greenhouses 1GW = 20 SQMLs

        concentrated mirrors, shining on dark boiler piping, can produce steam for electricity. Ufnortunately you need a LOT of unpopulated area for one of these. Solar energy density is generally too low to be practical on a VERY large scale without taking up a LOT of space. A solar panel farm is probably the most space-efficient way to do it, yeah, with current technology.

        When a parking area has covered sections that have solar panels on them, it's a creative way to make the parking lot better, AND use some of the space to create solar electricity. Another win-win. Seen this at a Walmart in San Diego, where it's sunny enough most of the time to be a practical location for solar electricity.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: RFC Electric Greenhouses 1GW = 20 SQMLs

        'The best plants (the one they make tequila from) can manage to convert 5% of light into power.'

        Sugar cane, is your example. It has a nongrowing period. :( But you would use the entire plant. Root and all. Not just the sugar. Then instantantly replace the 'bare ground' with a new planting.

        In a greenhouse you have an extra 2.5x from the extended period of warmth (35C) and extended period of light to the full 24 hours, all year round.

        And extra 5x for pushing to CO2 up to 2000pm. I have no idea what the top limit is.

        And it is a reliable technology.

        Closed carbon cycle.

        What is not to like.

        You weren't using an alpine meadow to compare to PV? A Spectra problem maybe?

        You can run a server center inside.

        Or even some light industrial stuff.

        CO2 gone. Some heat recaptured by the plants some stored underground for night time.

  5. JulieM Silver badge

    Hydrogen storage

    Hydrogen molecules are just too damn small. They will get through the gaps in any crystal lattice; and when they do, it doesn't take much force to accelerate them right out of the Earth's gravitational field. These are limitations of the universe, not limitations of present technology; which means that there is nothing anyone could invent that would make medium-term storage of hydrogen viable.

    The best thing for keeping hydrogen in one place is, and always will be, a chemical bond. And then, when you need pure hydrogen, it is best to make exactly as much as you need, just before you are going to use it.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Let's destroy our water supply to make hydrogen...

    ... what could go wrong?

    1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      Re: Let's destroy our water supply to make hydrogen...

      We will not be destroying any water. We would be splitting water into H2 and O2. When the H2 is used as a fuel it will recombine with O2 to make the same amount of water again.

  7. Chris the bean counter Bronze badge

    Alternative fuel for emergency backup hardly a priority

    For transition to renewable in UK there is a need for some emergency power for windless, cold dark evenings if a power station goes down. Some of this is supplied by second hand diesel engines sited in unpopulated areas from buses that are being retrofitted for day to day cleaner operations. So cheap it means more money available for the transition.

    Data centres would be sited where company confident of a reliable grid to minimise emergency fuel use.

    I expect Australia will move to electrolysis though doubt a pipe to Asia. Ammonia can be used in fuel cells and is a valuable chemical for fertiliser, easier to store and also transport.

    Good on Microsoft for doing the research however.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Marketing strong in this one is.

    Utter bollocks.

    The only way to win is not to play.

  9. Mark 85 Silver badge

    A Hindeberg Moment Waiting to Happen.

    Microsoft, hydrogen, and lowest paid contractors operating this. What could possibly go wrong?

    Diesels are not maintenance free either. We had contractors who failed to periodically drain the water and gelled diesel from the genset. Next to no PM except once a week "walk around". When the power failed, the genset kicked in... for about 10 minutes. It was a race to drain and clean the genset and refill against the power company restoring power. Two days later, we had power... from the power company.

  10. PhillW

    Big batteries

    The hydrogen as a fuel cycle is quite inefficient.

    Great big flow batteries............ that's what you need.

    Scalable

    No fire risk

    Good lifetime

    Completely recyclable

    Can be made from readily available materials

    1. Kernel

      Re: Big batteries

      "Great big flow batteries............ that's what you need.

      Scalable

      No fire risk

      Good lifetime

      Completely recyclable

      Can be made from readily available materials"

      Yep - build them with similar technology as the ones that live behind my ears.

      Large scale zinc-air fuel cells have all those characteristics, as well as being mechanically rechargeable - they also have a very high energy density as they don't need to contain the cathode material within the cell. Ideal for cars/trucks as the mechanical recharging could take place a some facility built for the purpose and equipped with appropriate pumps and hoses - maybe we could call them 'service stations'?

  11. Whoisthis

    ***Pedantic alert***.

    Can we make that a subscript 2 rather than superscript after the CO. Pretty please or I won't sleep tonight.

  12. StephenTompsett

    Why not just run diesels on hydrogen? Using hydrogen that is created by using the 'free' surplus energy that PV and wind generators produce in excess of current demand.

    Some modification to fuel system and injectors etc, but a possible route to transition to a a 'Greener' system without completely scrapping all the existing generating equipment.

  13. This post has been deleted by its author

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Microsoft have done it again - and you've been suckered into it!

    The Microsoft PR machine is something beautiful to behold - basically, they spend a little R&D cash (in relation to their worldwide revenues) on a technically innovative seed project (in this case Hydrogen fuel cells, but previously, underwater DCs, etc) and everyone starts talking about it and about Microsoft. MS bask in the glory that they're 'trying to save the planet' (they're not) and Marketing pat themselves on the back that this has been marketing budget well spent. I have been told by a MS insider that they regularly burn off diesel at the end of a month if they believe they can save energy costs because additional mains supply would ratchet them up to a higher cost banding (which applies to all energy use not just the marginal). Very green....

  15. calmeilles

    Convince me

    The thing that baffles me is how does one make the fuel cell system overall more economic than batteries in a static installation such as a data centre.

    To charge batteries the infrastructure already exists. The national electricity networks bring the renewable-generated (by whatever means) to where you store it. The efficiency of a hydrogen fuel cell is impressive, but there are so many other things from the robustness of the cell itself through the need to create new infrastructure to handle the hydrogen to the costs and inefficiencies of producing it by non polluting methods in the first place.

    I'd like to see some references to research and stuff because I just don't know, and I'm not seeing how it all adds up.

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