This data center will be Europe’s first with hydrogen backup power

And could this be a new Reg standard unit: Number of kilometers a Dutch person drives per day?


Dutch Data centre biz NorthC is replacing its backup power generators at the company's facility in Groningen to run on green hydrogen, saying it's a European first for data center design.

The H2-powered 500KW hydrogen fuel cell module will run on hydrogen created by renewable power and is intended to reduce consumption of diesel by tens of thousands of litres a year, while preventing 78,000 kilos of CO2 emissions per year, according to NorthC. The only emissions in the new fuel cells, made by Dutch builder Nedstack, will be water, and the hardware is expected to be good for 20 years of operation.

Here's a vid about it:

Youtube Video

The energy consumption and carbon footprint of data centers is a hot topic at the moment, especially as by some estimates they account for around one per cent of the entire world’s electricity use, and growing. The data center industry in the EU has agreed to make data centers climate neutral by 2030, and NorthC claims that hydrogen fuel cells are a promising technology to achieve this goal.

This is because the diesel generators that typically serve as emergency power have to be tested regularly, often on a monthly basis, to ensure that they'll work went the main electricity supply goes down. Multiply that by the number of data centers around Europe, and testing backups alone represents a considerable amount of diesel being consumed and emissions made.

NorthC claimed that the 78 tons of CO2 the fuel cell will save is equal to the output of 24 cars covering the average number of kilometers a Dutch person drives per day (that's 32 km), or 20,000 smartphones being charged every day, over a whole year. That's got to be a new one for the Register standards converter.

Green kid on the block

Hydrogen is considered a clean fuel because when consumed in a fuel cell, it produces only water as a by-product. However, most of the hydrogen that exists on Earth is combined with other elements and separating it out can be an energy-intensive process.

To be classed as green hydrogen, it must be produced by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using mostly renewable energy. Grey hydrogen is produced from methane using steam to split it into CO2 and hydrogen, while blue hydrogen uses a similar process but captures the CO2 produced.

“Hydrogen has always had very energy intensive production and distribution overheads,” commented Andrew Buss, research director for European Enterprise Infrastructure at IDC. This is partly because hydrogen molecules are so small they can leak out of containers, making storage and transport a challenge on top of the energy required to produce it.

NorthC is not the first in the world to pursue hydrogen fuel cells as a backup power source for data centres – Microsoft was testing out this technology in the US in 2020. But NorthC claims it will be the first in Europe to use them in a production setting when the Groningen kit becomes operational, which is slated for the middle of June.

For existing generators that run on diesel, NorthC is also investigating whether it is possible to convert them to run on hydrogen. While this is less efficient than hydrogen fuel cells it would still significantly reduce emissions and further contribute to sustainability, the firm said. ®


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