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The Race for Fuel Cells


Automotive Fuel Cells Power Data Centers

November 13th 2017

Oak Ridge Super Computer

At the Supercomputing Conference in Denver this week, automaker Daimler, together with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPW) and other partners, will demonstrate the application of fuel cells for stationary power supply systems.

At the past IAA motor show in September, Daimler presented a production-ready vehicle with fuel cell drive. The fuel cells of the current generation are to be 40 percent more powerful and 30 percent smaller than those of the previous generation. With its subsidiary NuCellSys and in cooperation with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), Power Innovations (PI) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the company has now developed a solution for the use of such energy sources in stationary power supply systems.


Automotive fuel cell systems today are considered suitable for everyday use and represent a promising option for the mobility sector. “But the potential of hydrogen beyond the automotive industry - for example, energy, industrial and home solutions - is diverse and requires the development of new strategies. Scale effects and modularization are important topics," says Christian Mohrdieck, head of fuel cells at Daimler AG and managing director of the Daimler subsidiary NuCellSys.

Data centers, on the other hand, are among the largest energy consumers in the new economy - with significant growth in consumption. According to a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the power requirements of data centers in the U. S. are estimated to increase to 140 billion kilowatt hours of electricity per year by 2020, which corresponds to the annual production of about 50 power plants and an annual CO2 emission of about 100 million tons. The increasing energy demand needs to be balanced by a sustainable, environmentally friendly energy supply. Fuel cells are a promising technology in this area. No other energy technology offers such high reliability, modular scalability and all the advantages of renewable energies without being dependent on the conventional energy market, Daimler claims.

Fuel cell systems produce electricity continuously while providing a constant supply of hydrogen. As with battery systems, the technology is based on an electrochemical reaction, but fuel cells and hydrogen offer the advantage of scalable energy. Low emission rates and noise levels as well as the signifiacntly reduced space requirement make fuel cells a good choice for micro-networks in data centers. Combined with low maintenance and high cost efficiency, fuel cells thus meet the high energy storage requirements of today's data centers.

The concept of a "hydrogen-based", CO2-free data center consists of fuel cells, electrolyzer, storage tanks, photovoltaic and wind power plants. By combining the systems, the partners compensate for the instability and variability of renewable energy sources. The idea: The basic power requirements of the data center are covered by solar and wind power plants. In situations where the solar and wind energy generated exceeds the data center's requirements, excess energy can be used to produce hydrogen via electrolysis. The energy is thus stored instead of throttling the power generation. If the power requirements of the data center exceed the solar and wind energy generated, or even in the event of a power failure, the fuel cell systems generate electricity from the hydrogen stored previously. The use of automotive fuel cell systems helps to simplify the power generation and supply of data centers and to improve the CO2 balance. The traditional power supply accounts for about 30-40% of the cost of building a new data center. This new energy supply approach from the partners can significantly reduce total cost of ownership by eliminating the need for diesel generators, centralized uninterruptible power supply systems (UPS), switchgear and expensive copper wires.

The most efficient use of energy and material resources is also valid for all components in electromobility. Daimler and its subsidiary NuCellSys, a pioneer in the development of automotive fuel cell systems, are contributing several fuel cell systems to the project. These correspond to the latest generation of technology presented at this year's IAA in Frankfurt in pre-series models of the Mercedes-Benz GLC F-CELL. The concept, which was developed by Lab1886, the Daimler AG's innovation hotbed, in cooperation with NuCellSys and MBRDNA, opens up a potentially new business area in the field of stationary power generation. Developed for demanding automotive applications, the fuel cell systems meet high safety requirements and are therefore suitable for integration into modern data centers.

The project will start the pilot phase next year. Daimler, HPE and PI are collaborating with the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) to do this. NREL is a globally recognized institute in the field of sustainable data centers and renewable energies as well as hydrogen generation, storage and corresponding safety standards.

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