Feasibility, Economics, and Sustainability of Fuel Cell-Powered Data Center

J. Kurtz, T. Cader, Z. Ma, P. Clark, B. Mount, D. Thoss, S. Hammond
National Renewable Energy Laboratory,
United States

Keywords: fuel cell, data center, hydrogen production, hydrogen storage


Data centers, used for cloud computing or data storage, consume huge amounts of power and are increasing rapidly in number, and consequently, this increase in power consumption has raised concerns with green and sustainable energy supplies to minimize carbon emissions. Significant renewable power can be a carbon-free energy source to reduce the carbon footprint of a data center; however, direct integration of wind and solar power with data center causes concern of the power quality for uninterrupted power supply to computer servers. The reliable power integration can be accomplished by using power produced from fuel cells fueled by hydrogen (H2). If fed with H2 derived from renewable sources, fuel cells will realize carbon-free data centers. Unlike a battery, fuel cells benefit the datacenter microgrid with a direct power supply to computer servers and are capable of flexible scalability, the small footprint of power generation, larger storage capacity, low maintenance, and high energy efficiency. Fuel-cell power supply within a data center can be more reliable and sustainable, and have low noise levels and dramatically reduced the footprint for power generation and distribution inside the data center building. As a fuel source for fuel-cell powered a data center, hydrogen infrastructure is critical to provide continuous fuel supply for running fuel cells. This paper introduces various paths for hydrogen supply infrastructure and shows the methods to obtain component sizes and cost for meeting the server load in a data center. Microgrid modeling software, Hybrid Optimization Model for Electric Renewable (HOMER), was used for sizing the hydrogen infrastructure of the fuel cell-powered data centers from renewable power generation. Our modeling results show various renewable-integration scenarios to meet the reliable and sustainable power requirements for a data center.