Microsoft and the University of Texas are working towards a battery-powered future

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As is Microsoft is currently transitioning from a software vendor to a mobile-first, cloud-first company, the Redmond giant is currently increasing its data center investments worldwide. The company also seems committed to build greener houses for its data as we reported earlier this year that Microsoft researchers built “Project Natick”,  a prototype of a self-contained data center that can function hundreds of feet below the surface of the ocean.

Moreover, the company is exploring other ideas to build better data centers that generate less pollution and are cheaper to operate: according to a new report from the San Antonio Business Journal, Microsoft is working with researchers at the University of Texas and several companies in the energy sector to developer battery-powered data centers.

The company has donated $1 billion to UTSA for the battery research in exchange of tax abatement on the construction of its second data Center in San Antonio, Texas. While Microsoft will invest $1 billion over seven years on this latest facility, company officials acknowledged earlier that electricity costs can surpass construction costs over the life of a data center.

The battery research will bring together Microsoft, UTSA, Australian liquid battery manufacturer Redflow Energy Storage Solutions Inc., German maker of a cell cube battery Gildemeister Energy Solutions and more. Sean James, senior project manager of research at Microsoft explained:

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to know that we are entering a new industrial revolution. … And companies like Microsoft are building the factories for this new industrial age. Microsoft is committed to fueling these new factories with sustainable energy.

The partners are exploring the use of liquid-flow batteries which replace lithium or lead acid by fluid, and these liquid-flow batteries can separate electricity generation from storage. While current data centers have several backup energy sources in case of power outages (including expensive and not so green diesel generators), battery-powered data centers would no longer need these alternative source of powers.

Additionally, these liquid-flow batteries could be directly linked to power grids to store energy from renewable sources such as wind or solar. However, we’re still years away from a concrete application and it’s still not guaranteed that these battery-powered data centers could enable cost savings.

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