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Caterpillar demonstrates viability of using hydrogen fuel cell technology at Microsoft data centre

Caterpillar demonstrates viability of using hydrogen fuel cell technology at Microsoft data centre

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The demonstration marks significant progress toward providing data centres with reliable and sustainable backup power with hydrogen technology.

Caterpillar has announced the success of its collaboration with Microsoft and Ballard Power Systems to demonstrate the viability of using large-format hydrogen fuel cells to supply reliable and sustainable backup power for data centres.

The demonstration provided valuable insights into the capabilities of fuel cell systems to power multi-MW data centres, ensuring Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) to meet 99.999% uptime requirements.

The demonstration was conducted in a challenging environment and validated the hydrogen fuel cell power system’s performance at 6,086 feet (1,855m) above sea level and in below-freezing conditions. The project simulated a 48-hour backup power event at Microsoft’s data centre in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where a hydrogen fuel cell was integrated into a data centre electrical plant to support its critical load. A Caterpillar Microgrid Controller was used to operate two Cat Power Grid Stabilization (PGS) 1260 battery energy storage systems along with the 1.5MW hydrogen fuel cell. 

Caterpillar led the project, providing the overall system integration, power electronics and microgrid controls that form the central structure of the hydrogen power solution. “This successful collaboration with Microsoft and Ballard demonstrates the potential of hydrogen fuel cells to help data centres address their critical power needs while reducing their emissions,” said Jaime Mineart, Senior Vice President, Caterpillar Electric Power.

“This project’s success provides an opportunity for hyperscale providers to drive innovations in the sustainability of power generation technologies,” added Sean James, Senior Director of Data Center Research, Microsoft. “The research and findings of the hydrogen fuel cell demonstration will help us towards our goal of becoming carbon negative by 2030.”

The project is supported and partially funded by the US Department of Energy Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office (DOE) under the H2@Scale initiative, which brings stakeholders together to advance affordable hydrogen production, transport, storage and utilisation in multiple energy sectors. During the demonstration, the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) analysed safety, techno-economics and greenhouse gas (GHG) impacts.

Caterpillar’s hydrogen-fuel power technologies include a range of commercially available power solutions capable of operating natural gas blended with up to 25% hydrogen by volume. It also has a project with Minnesota-based District Energy St. Paul to demonstrate a hydrogen-fueled combined heat and power (CHP) system.

In addition to power solutions using hydrogen and other fuels to help reduce carbon emissions, Caterpillar offers a broad portfolio of products to help customers achieve their climate-related goals. These include Distributed Energy Resource Management System (DERMS) software solutions for monitoring, managing and monetising on-site energy assets, a full hybrid energy solutions technology suite, Cat CHP systems and combined cooling, heating and power (CCHP) systems, and systems that can operate on hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), biodiesel and blended fuel products.

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