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Daimler aims fuel cells at data centres

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By Nick Flaherty

Daimler and its subsidiary NuCellSys along with Mercedes-Benz Research and Development North America (MBRDNA) and Daimler Innovations Lab1886 is working with Power Innovations (PI) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in the US to use the latest generation of fuel cells to store and deliver power alongside renewable sources such as solar and wind power.

This follows the opening of a fuel cell-power lab at a data centre in Seattle backed by Siemens.

The company has already gathered experience with hydrogen-powered electric vehicles over several vehicle generations and millions of test kilometres around the world and recently presented the next step with pre-production models of the Mercedes-Benz GLC F‑CELL. HPE and PI, a subsidiary of LiteOn, are developing prototype systems for back-up and continuous power solutions for data centres.

“The maturity of automotive fuel cell systems is unquestioned today. They are ready for everyday use and constitute a viable option for the transportation sector. However, the opportunities for hydrogen beyond the mobility sector – energy, industrial and residential sectors – are versatile and require the development of new strategies. Economies of scale and therefore modularization are important challenges”, said Prof. Dr. Christian Mohrdieck, Fuel Cell Director at Daimler and CEO of Daimler’s subsidiary NuCellSys.

Data centres are some of the largest consumers of power in the new economy, and the growth rate of this power consumption is significant as well. Date centres in the US are projected to consume an estimated 140 billion kWh per year by 2020, equivalent to the annual output of about 50 power plants.Fuel cells rely on an electrochemical reaction like a battery, but, unlike a battery, they have a potentially limitless capability, using excess power from renewable sources to generate the hydrogen that is then used to provide power directly to racks in the data centre when other sources are intermittent.

The idea is to have the basic power supply of the data centre covered by solar power stations and wind turbines. Under conditions where solar and wind electrical generation exceeds total electricity demand of the data centre, rather than curtailing generation, the excess power can be used to generate and store hydrogen. In situations where data centre electrical demand exceeds solar and wind generation, or even during power outages, the hydrogen fuel cells can provide sustainable power from the stored hydrogen. What is most attractive about this automotive fuel cell application is that it helps simplify data centre power generation and distribution with a significantly reduced carbon footprint. Traditional power distribution can constitute 30-40% of total construction costs for a new data centre. This new power provisioning approach significantly lowers the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of the data centre by avoiding the need for diesel generators, central uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), switchgear, and expensive copper power lines.

“Rapidly escalating power demands are putting pressure on traditional power delivery solutions. The use of Daimler fuel cells for continuous and back-up power solutions will allow us to explore new, sustainable, cost-effective and rapid methods to power our customers’ data centers”, said Bill Mannel, VP & GM HPC and AI, Hewlett Packard Enterprise. HPE is working with the collaboration partners to integrate fuel cell power systems with its current IT infrastructure solutions, including the HPE Apollo 6000 Gen10, HPE SGI 8600, and other HPE platforms.

As the system integrator for the fuel cell partnership, PI will use its expertise in small footprint, high yield power grids to redefine sustainability for the industry. “The data centre is just the first stop on our journey to fundamentally changing how we harness renewable energy. Within a very short timeframe, we can achieve our vision of a safer and renewable future for all of our customers – mostly notably our military and homeland security markets,” said Robert Mount, President of Power Innovations. 

The project will begin a pilot phase next year when Daimler, HPE and PI will work with NREL. 

www.daimler.com

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