Cooperation for non-mobile fuel cell systems

  • Compact design of the fuel cell systems ensures flexibility
  • CO2-free energy supply systems for computer centres already in the pilot phase
  • Automotive fuel cells are accelerating the energy transformation

30 percent smaller, 40 percent more powerful and with dimensions that allow installation in the engine compartment of Mercedes-Benz vehicles - the new fuel cell systems are more flexible than ever before. This also applies to non-automotive applications. With its wholly-owned subsidiary NuCellSys working in cooperation with Mercedes-Benz Research and Development North America (MBRDNA) and the Daimler innovation incubator Lab1886, Daimler expanded the range of applications for its innovative fuel cell technology at the end of 2017. Together with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), Power Innovations (PI) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the company uses automotive fuel cell systems in stationary energy supply systems. In this way the partners are demonstrating a sustainable and independent energy supply for computer centres while accelerating the energy revolution. The first systems are already in operation.

Fuel cells as the ideal choice for microgrids in computer centres

Computer centres are among the largest energy consumers in the new economy, and this consumption is showing considerable growth rates. According to a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the power requirement of computer centres in the USA will increase to an estimated 140 billion kilowatt hours per year by 2020, corresponding to the annual production of around 50 power stations and annual CO2 emissions of around 100 million tonnes. The increasing energy requirement must be met with a sustainable and environmentally compatible power supply. Fuel cells are a very promising technology in this sector. No other energy technology offers such high reliability, modular scaleability and all the advantages of renewable energy without dependence on the conventional energy market. When constantly supplied with hydrogen, fuel cell systems continuously generate electrical power. Synergies can also be used in the cooling system: the output temperature of the computer coolant is the same as the input temperature of the fuel cell coolant.

As in battery systems, the technology is based on an electrochemical reaction, however fuel cells and hydrogen have the advantage of a scaleable energy content. Great reliability, low emission rates, the low noise level and the drastic reduction in the space requirement make fuel cells the ideal choice for microgrids in computer centres. In combination with their modular scaleability, low maintenance requirement and corresponding cost efficiency, this means that fuel cells are able to meet the high energy storage requirements of today's computer centres.

Comprehensive approach for a CO2-free energy supply

To allow a 24/7 power supply for computer centres while using renewable forms of energy, Daimler, HPE and PI are studying energy generation using integrated hydrogen storage systems and fuel cell systems for a direct power supply to computer server racks in computer centres. The innovative concept of a "hydrogen-based", CO2-free computer centre consists of fuel cells, an electrolyser, a storage unit, photovoltaics and windfarms. By combining these systems, the partners plan to compensate the instability and variability of renewable energy sources. The idea: The basic power requirement of the computer centre is covered by solar and wind power. In situations where the generated solar and wind power exceeds the needs of the computer centre, the excess energy can be used to produce hydrogen by electrolysis. This means that the energy is stored rather than restricting production. When the power requirement of the computer centre exceeds the generated solar and wind energy, or in the event of a power failure, the fuel cell systems generate power using the previously stored hydrogen.

The compelling aspect is that using automotive fuel cell systems helps to simplify energy generation and supply for computer centres, and greatly improve the CO2 balance. A traditional power supply accounts for around 30-40% of the costs when constructing a new computer centre. This new approach to power supply by the partners will be able to reduce the total operating costs considerably in the future, by making diesel generators, central, uninterrupted power supply systems, switching stations and expensive copper wiring unnecessary.

Automotive fuel cells are accelerating the energy transformation

Husbanding energy and material resources as efficiently as possible also applies to all the components in electromobility. As part of the implementation of "CASE", Daimler AG's understanding of sustainability goes well beyond the car as a product. Daimler and its wholly-owned subsidiary NuCellSys, a pioneer and one of the worldwide leaders in the development of automotive fuel cell systems, are contributing several fuel cell systems to this innovative project. These represent the very latest technology generation, which was presented in pre-series models of the Mercedes-Benz GLC F-CELL at last year's International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt. This concept developed by Lab1886, the innovation incubator at Daimler AG, in close collaboration with NuCellSys and MBRDNA opens up the potential for a new business unit in the stationary energy generation sector. Developed for the high demands of automotive use, Mercedes-Benz fuel cell systems meet the highest safety and quality requirements and are therefore ideally suitable for integration into modern computer centres.

The partners presented their first project results in the form of a prototype system at last year's SuperComputing Conference in Denver.

The project entered its pilot phase this year. To this end Daimler, HPE and PI are working together with the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL).