Equinix explores the use of hydrogen fuel cells in its data centers

This fanwall is part of Equinix’s approach to sustainable operations at its SG5 data center in Singapore. (Photo: Equinine)

Equinix is ​​exploring the use of hydrogen as a green fuel source in corporate data centers and has created a research project in Singapore to develop a proof of concept, the company said today.

As one of the largest data center operators, Equinix is ​​well positioned to play a leading role in the transition to greener energy technologies to support the growth of the Internet. A key part of this transition is the development of sustainable sources of electricity for generators that provide backup power during power outages.

Equinix will partner with the Center for Energy Research & Technology (CERT) to initiate a research project to compare the efficiency of proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells and fuel-flexible linear generator technologies. PEM fuel cells are a major contender for hydrogen power, while fuel-flexible linear generators allow operators to easily switch between a variety of clean fuel options, including hydrogen, biogas, and various renewable liquid fuels.

These technologies “could enable data centers to reduce carbon emissions while meeting growing demand for data, colocation and interconnection services,” Equinix said. CERT is part of the College of Design and Engineering at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Focus on tropical data centers

The research collaboration between Equinix and CERT will involve a holistic evaluation of these technologies for tropical data centers, taking into account local climatic conditions, site constraints, energy demand, supply chain, storage capacities of fuel as well as local regulatory policies.

“Data centers serve as conduits for the digital economy, and greening their operations can spur the rise of sustainable businesses across the economic landscape,” said Yee May Leong, Managing Director, South Asia. South, Equinix. “Working with like-minded partners, such as the NUS Center for Energy Research & Technology, gives us the combined experience and expertise to advance the growth of digital economies in line with environmental obligations, to the benefit of the data center industry, global economies and the planet.”

As part of the research initiative, Equinix plans to develop proof-of-concept projects across its global data center network for real-world testing and integration into future data center designs.

“By driving innovation in Singapore, the Equinix and CERT partnership aims to accelerate disruptive technologies that can reduce the carbon footprint of global data centers, especially in tropical regions,” the partners said.

The potential of hydrogen energy

Hydrogen has always been envisioned as a potential fuel to power a clean revolution, but hydrogen fuel cells have remained elusive as a production option, lacking the economics and scale for center production. of data.

That started to change in July 2020, when Microsoft announced plans to end its dependence on diesel fuel by 2030, a decision with major implications for data centers around the world. Diesel generators play a central role in ensuring that critical data center applications never go offline, as part of a redundant power infrastructure that also includes uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) and batteries.

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After several years of testing, Microsoft recently partnered with Plug Power to deploy a 3 megawatt hydrogen power system large enough to replace a traditional diesel generator. This project also used PEM fuel cells, which combine hydrogen and oxygen in a chemical reaction that generates electricity, heat and water – with no combustion, no particulates and no carbon emissions. . PEM fuel cells are commonly used in the automotive industry because, like diesel engines, they turn on and off quickly and can follow a load up and down.

The Singapore project is part of Equinix’s Future First strategy to green the digital economy. Green hydrogen has been identified as a viable source of sustainable energy, but industrial-scale hydrogen production remains several years away from being commercially viable. In the meantime, Equinix wants to be ready to deploy at scale once the fuel becomes available.

Building on green initiatives

Equinix is ​​already part of the Clean Hydrogen Partnershipa European collaboration between seven companies – Equinix, InfraPrime, RISE, Snam, SOLIDpower, TEC4FUELS and Vertiv – to develop low-impact fuel cells combining solid oxide fuel cells and UPS systems using lithium-ion batteries.

The digital infrastructure company has also created a co-innovation facility in Ashburn, Virginia, where it operates liquid-cooled servers backed by fuel cells, sodium-ion batteries and intelligent power management.

A new wrinkle in Singapore is the focus on fuel-flexible linear generators, which provide the ability to switch between fuels like hydrogen, biogas and various renewable liquid fuels, enabling the installation of infrastructure that can be easily adapted to market conditions and fuel availability in different regions.

“We want to work with industry partners like Equinix, which is known for its sustainability efforts and gives us access to a global network of data centers that can serve as a test bed for a more accurate assessment of operational viability. “said associate professor Lee Poh. Seng, Director, Center for Energy Research and Technology, NUS College of Design and Engineering. “Through this partnership, we look forward to taking a leading role in green data center innovations that can be applied in Singapore and around the world.”

Ramon J. Espinoza