Fuel cells are a strong alternative to powering data centres, according to a paper released by Microsoft Corp. yesterday.

Fuel cells are far cleaner than many traditional sources of power for data centres and cost less than high voltage switchgear, transformers, copper cables and other moving parts that current systems require, according to the study titled No more electrical infrastructure: Towards fuel cell powered data centres.

The study looked into the use of fuel cells as a centralized power source and a distributed power generation technology. It also investigated the use of fuel cells at the rack or single server cabinet level.

Sean James, author of the study and senior research program manager at Microsoft’s Global Foundation Services, however said there are some “deep technical issues” around fuel cells that need to be resolved.

The issues cover the areas of: fuel distribution systems; power management; and safety training.

He said fuel cells can be a source of clean energy for electricity and heating of homes in a scenario where fuel cells are created using an electrochemical process that converts energy from hydrogen, natural gas, ethanol or biogas.

In September online shopping and bidding site Ebay.com unveiled a data centre in Salt Lake City that uses fuel cells. The facility uses biogas, which comes from agricultural waste.

Fuel cells are becoming pretty popular. An estimated 30,000 fuel cell systems were shipped in 2012 up from just 5,000 in 2008.

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