Daimler Sees Automotive Fuel Cells Powering Data Centers

fuel cells Daimler automotive data center power
Daimler seeks to apply automotive fuel cell tech to help power data centers. Credit: Daimler

German automaker Daimler AG announced plans today to collaborate with Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Power Innovations International, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory on using its automotive fuel cells to help power data centers.

“Fuel cell technology is an integral part of Daimler’s powertrain strategy,” the automaker said in the announcement. Daimler, which owns Mercedes-Benz, has already gained experience with the technology through several generations of hydrogen-powered EVs. And, in what’s considered to be a world first, the Mercedes-Benz GLC F‑CELL, an electric vehicle with fuel-cell/battery powertrain, went into pre-production this year.

Now the automaker sees potential in using fuel cells for microgrids within data centers. “The novel concept of a ‘hydrogen-based’ carbon-free data center utilizes hydrogen fuel cells, electrolyzers, storage, solar cells, and wind turbines,” the partners explain.

“Rapidly escalating power demands are putting pressure on traditional power delivery solutions,” Bill Mannel, vice president and general manager of high-performance computing and artificial intelligence at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, said in Daimler’s announcement. “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.”

Daimler says that automotive fuel cell technology can provide key benefits for data centers, including:

  • High reliability
  • Unlimited scalability
  • Independence from utility costs
  • A constant hydrogen supply
  • Limitless capacity
  • Low emission rates
  • Low noise levels
  • Renewable energy benefits

The project partners envision using the technology to mitigate the intermittency and variability of renewable sources. “The idea is to have the basic power supply of the data center covered by solar power stations and wind turbines,” the partners say. “Under conditions where solar and wind electrical generation exceeds total electricity demand of the data center, rather than curtailing generation, the excess power can be used to generate and store hydrogen.”

Then, during power outages or other situations where electrical demand outstrips renewable power generation, hydrogen fuel cells could provide power from the stored hydrogen.

Daimler isn’t the only company eyeing fuel cell technology to improve energy efficiency for data centers. Recently Microsoft opened a data center pilot in Seattle that has in-rack fuel cells. The fuel cell technology used in the data center is intended to nearly double energy efficiency.

“What is most attractive about this automotive fuel cell application is that it helps simplify data center power generation and distribution with a significantly reduced carbon footprint,” Daimler says in the press release.

The project partners will be presenting the results from a prototype system at the SuperComputing 2017 conference in Denver next week. A pilot phase of the project is set to begin next year.

Vendors mentioned above:

  • Hewlett Packard Enterprise
  • Power Innovations International
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