Equinix is ​​exploring the use of hydrogen fuel cells in its data centers

This fan wall is part of Equinix’s approach to sustainable operations at the SG5 data center in Singapore. (Photo: Equinix)

The company said today that Equinix is ​​exploring the use of hydrogen as a green fuel source in the company’s data centers, and has set up a research project in Singapore to develop a proof-of-concept.

As one of the largest data center operators, Equinix is ​​in a position to play a leading role in the transition to greener energy technologies to support the growth of the Internet. A key component of this transformation is the development of sustainable electricity sources for generators that provide emergency power during outage.

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

Equinix said these technologies “may allow data centers to reduce carbon emissions while meeting growing demand for data, connectivity and interconnection services.” CERT is part of the School of Design and Engineering at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Focus on tropical data centers

The Research Collaboration Between Equinix and CERT a comprehensive evaluation of these technologies for tropical data centers, taking into account local climatic conditions, site constraints, energy demand, supply chain, and fuel storage capabilities as well as local regulatory policies.

“Data centers serve as a payment channel for the digital economy, and the greening of their operations can drive the rise of sustainable business throughout the broader economic landscape,” said Yi Mai Leung, General Manager South Asia, Equinix. “Working with like-minded partners such as the Center for Energy and Technology Research at NUS enables us to share expertise and experience to foster the growth of digital economies in line with environmental commitments, benefiting the data center industry, global economies and the planet.”

As part of the research initiative, Equinix expects to develop proof-of-concept projects within its global network of data centers for real-world testing and integrate them 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, particularly in tropical locations,” the partners stated.

Hydrogen power potential

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

That started to change in July 2020, when Microsoft announced its plans End its dependence on diesel fuel by 2030, a decision that has major implications for data centers around the world. Diesel generators play a central role in ensuring that mission-critical data center applications never fail, as part of a redundant electrical infrastructure that also includes UPS systems and batteries.

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After several years of testing, Microsoft recently teamed up with Plug Power to Deployment of a 3 megawatt hydrogen power system, which is large enough to replace a conventional 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 particulate matter and no carbon emissions. PEM fuel cells are commonly used in the automotive industry because, like diesel engines, they are quick to start and stop, and they can follow a load up and down.

The Singapore project is part of Equinix’s future strategy to green the digital economy. Green hydrogen has been identified as a viable source of sustainable energy, but the generation of hydrogen on an industrial scale is still far from being commercially viable for several years. In the meantime, Equinix wants to be ready for widespread deployment as soon as fuel is available.

Building on green initiatives

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

Digital Infrastructure Company has also created a file co-innovation facility in Ashburn, Virginia, where it operates liquid-cooled servers powered by fuel cells, sodium-ion batteries, and smart energy management.

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

“We are keen to work with industry partners such as Equinix, which is known for its efforts in sustainability and provides us with access to a global network of data centers that can serve as a testbed for a more accurate assessment of operational viability,” said Associate Professor Lee Poh Singh, Director of the Center for Energy and Technology Research, NUS College of Design and Engineering. “Through this partnership, we look forward to playing a leadership role in green data center innovations that can be applied in Singapore and globally.”

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