Cummins Inc.’s foray into alternative energy solutions for customers is gaining steam.

The Columbus-based global power company, best known for making diesel engines, on Wednesday with partners Microsoft and McKinstry announced the opening of their new Advanced Energy Lab in Seattle.

The lab’s purpose is to demonstrate independence from the traditional electrical grid by integrating fuel cells directly into the 20-rack data center.

The Advanced Energy Lab uses natural gas to power its servers, but in the future it also could use hydrogen or renewable gases, said Gary Johansen, executive director of engineering for Cummins’ Power Systems business.

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“This is another step in our journey to develop greater efficiency, reliability and sustainability for our customers,” Johansen said.

Data centers are traditionally powered by the electrical grid, which involves electrons flowing through a power plant and multiple substations and transmission lines before being converted into the proper voltage for data centers to use, the companies said in a news release.

Powering in-rack fuel cells directly from a natural gas line, or possibly a renewable power source on site, streamlines the energy transmission process, reduces energy loss, nearly doubles energy efficiency, reduces costs and benefits the grid, the companies said.

Data centers use a lot of energy, and the Advanced Energy Lab is a way to conserve energy and get off the traditional electrical grid, Cummins spokesman Jon Mills said.

The Advanced Energy Lab developed out of a growing business relationship Cummins has with Microsoft, Johansen said. Cummins provides emergency standby power with its generator systems for Microsoft data centers around the world to ensure they operate without interruption.

The Seattle project has been in the works for at least six months, Johansen said.

Cummins, multinational technology giant Microsoft and Seattle-based McKinstry, a company that designs, builds, operates and maintains high-performance, energy-efficient buildings, conceived the idea of the lab and funded its creation.

McKinstry hosts the lab at the McKinstry Innovation Center in Seattle. Cummins oversees the power system to make sure it is efficient and reliable in supporting Microsoft’s cloud computing, Johansen said.

Additional project funding was provided by German conglomerate Siemens, which has energy and industry divisions, and the Washington State Department of Commerce through its Clean Energy Fund.

“This project is another example of how we are committed to developing a wide variety of power technologies to bring our customers the choice and solutions that enable their success today and in the future,” Jennifer Rumsey, Cummins vice president and chief technical officer, said in a news release.

Cummins has made several other recent deals that fit with its plans to become more involved in alternative energy sources.

On Oct. 9, Cummins and GILLIG announced an electrified power partnership. The collaboration involves integrating and optimizing new battery electric technology offered by Cummins to power GILLIG zero-emissions transit buses.

It announced Oct. 16 the purchase of Oregon-based Brammo Inc., an energy storage technology company, to help accelerate Cummins’ electrification platform. Brammo designs and develops battery packs for mobile and stationary applications.

The stock market has been reacting favorably of late to Cummins.

The company achieved an all-time high closing price Tuesday of $178.40. That reflected a gain of $51.76 in a year, since Cummins’ stock closed at $126.64 on Oct. 24, 2016. On Wednesday, the company’s stock price closed at 176.92.

Other recent developments

Other recent activities and announcements by Cummins Inc.:

Oct. 6: Launches a new customer-focused online parts catalog, Parts.cummins.com. The new site allows users to search for parts information using any serial or part number available on a Cummins engine or component.

Oct. 9: Cummins and GILLIG announce an electrified power partnership that involves integrating and optimizing new battery electric technology offered by Cummins to power GILLIG zero-emissions transit buses. Plans call for a 200-mile operating range on a single charge. “The partnership enables a close technical collaboration so we can accelerate system integration and performance optimization work to leap ahead of others in the industry,” said Amy Boerger, Cummins vice president of sales for North America.

Oct. 10: Announces quarterly stock dividend of $1.08 per share, payable Dec. 1 to shareholders of record on Nov. 17.

Oct. 16: Acquires Oregon-based Brammo Inc., an energy storage technology company, to help accelerate Cummins’ electrification platform. Brammo designs and develops battery packs for mobile and stationary applications. “To be a leading provider of electrified power systems just as we are with diesel- and natural gas-driven powertrains, we must own key elements and subsystems of the electrification network,” said Cummins Chairman and CEO Tom Linebarger.

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Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at johannesen@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5639.