Equinix tests out fuel cells as alternative for datacenter power

Teams up with National University of Singapore on proof-of-concept designs

Equinix has teamed up with the National University of Singapore to investigate the potential of hydrogen as a green fuel source for datacenter infrastructure.

The global datacenter and colocation provider said it has formed a partnership to examine on-site power generation technologies for bit barns of the future with the Centre for Energy Research & Technology (CERT) at the National University of Singapore's (NUS) College of Design and Engineering.

According to Equinix, the research will compare the efficiency of proton-exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells with fuel-flexible linear generator technologies in providing power for datacenters.

The project is the result of a memorandum of understanding between the two entities, under which CERT will conduct an analysis of the technologies, in order to determine their viability to operate at large scale.

Equinix expects to develop proof-of-concept projects for real-world testing within its global network of datacenters, with a view to incorporating the most viable technology into future designs.

Fuel cells produce electricity using hydrogen as the electrolyte, while fuel-flexible generators use a low-temperature reaction of air and fuel rather than combustion to generate energy and can operate with a range of fuels, including biogas and renewable liquid fuels as well as hydrogen.

Equinix said the project will assess the suitability of these technologies for tropical datacenters initially, taking into account local climate conditions, site constraints, power demand, supply chain, fuel storage capabilities, and regulatory policies.

Greening datacenter operations may drive the rise of sustainable business throughout the broader economic landscape, according to Equinix's Managing Director for South Asia, Yee May Leong.

"Working with like-minded partners like the Centre for Energy Research & Technology at NUS empowers us with the combined experience and expertise to advance the growth of digital economies in line with environmental obligations, benefiting the datacenter industry, global economies, and the planet," she said.

Equinix is not the only company looking into hydrogen as an alternative fuel source for datacenters. Last month, Microsoft disclosed it had successfully tested a hydrogen fuel cell system with 3MW capacity, and was planning to install a similar system at a research datacenter where its engineers can investigate how best to operate the technology.

Earlier this year, Dutch datacenter operator NorthC announced it was deploying a fuel cell module based on hydrogen, but this is to replace its backup power generators rather than as a primary power source. ®

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