ASX Tech Stocks: Microsoft says hydrogen fuel cells could mean emission-free backup power for data centres
Tech giant Microsoft has used hydrogen fuel cells to successfully power a data centre in New York.
It’s part of the company’s plans to find a zero-carbon emissions replacement for the backup diesel-powered generators that support continuous operations in the event of power outages and other service disruptions.
Microsoft director of data centre research Sean James called it “a moon landing moment” for the industry.
“We have a generator that produces no emissions,” he said. “It’s mind-blowing.”
To break it down a bit, data centres are the physical infrastructure behind the veil of cloud computing, where cat videos and vacation photos are stored, where remote workers gather for virtual meetings and gamers converge.
They’re basically warehouses packed with tens of thousands of computer servers and the equipment needed to keep the servers running and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This includes machines that keep the servers at T-shirt weather temperatures, as well as batteries and generators that maintain an uninterrupted power supply even during power grid outages.
Microsoft aims to provide data centre customers service availability 99.999% of the time and to do that, they rely in part on the batteries in what’s called the uninterruptible power supply (UPS) to kick on the moment a power outage occurs and provide power to the servers while backup generators are fired up.
When the backup generators do run, they typically burn fossil fuel – but this test used a low-carbon “blue” hydrogen obtained as a by-product in the industrial production of chlorine and sodium hydroxide.
It just looks like a few fancy shipping containers but the implications for the industry could be huge.
With the prototype testing of the three-megawatt fuel cell system now complete, engineering company Plug plans to roll out a optimised commercial version of high-power stationary fuel cell systems that have a smaller footprint.
And Microsoft will install one of these second-generation fuel cell systems at a research data centre where engineers will learn how to work with and deploy the new technology, including the development of hydrogen safety protocols.
“I’m going to turn around when the excitement dies down and start to ask, ‘Okay, we did one, where can I get 1000?” James said.
“We’ve got a commitment to be completely diesel free, and that supply chain has got to be robust – we’ve got to talk about scale across the entire hydrogen industry.”
The counter-drone company says its nabbed a record $2 million in cash payment as a grant from the Australian Government as an R&D Tax Incentive for its 2021 activities.
“DroneShield appreciates the substantial support it receives from the Australian Government, through grants and export support for overseas sales, alongside of our current and under proposal contracts with the Australian Defence Force,” CEO Oleg Vornik said.
“At over 40 engineers, DroneShield has grown to be an Australian-based global leader in the Artificial Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and adjacent technologies, which are becoming increasingly in demand in current uncertain times around the world.”
The grant will be reflected in the cash receipts for the current 3Q22 quarter, with the quarterly cashflow summary due to be released in October.
AI data player Appen says its unaudited first half results show group revenue was down 7% at $182.9m, due to a lower contribution from the Global Division due to weaker digital advertising demand.
In addition, underlying net loss after tax was $3.8 million, compared to a $12.5 million net profit after tax in 1H FY21.
But CEO Mark Brayan says in China – despite a three-month COVID lockdown – the company continues to grow with first half revenue up 141% at $18m.
“We have established ourselves as a leading AI data company in China, and continue to service the leading tech giants, social media, mobile providers, and autonomous vehicle companies,” he said.
“The Enterprise business is showing growing momentum. Its first half was not to its potential, but the second half has started well with orders of $9.3 million in July.
“Despite the current challenging operating conditions, we remain committed to our longer-term growth strategy and confident of our prospects in the high growth AI market.”
This flame and thermal management tech player has appointed a new CEO and MD in Billy Blackburn as part of its efforts to ramp up commercialisation of its Alexicool and Alexiflam products for military uniforms, workwear and bedding markets.
“With the number of commercial opportunities currently being pursued, it is crucial that we drive revenue growth and Mr Blackburn’s experience will complement our management team’s skill sets,” Alexium chair Rosheen Garnon said.
“In particular, this will enable Dr Brookins, as chief technology officer, to focus on product innovation and development, as well as customer product adoption.”