Fuel cells or going underwater? How should data centre power be managed?

Fuel cells or going underwater? How should data centre power be managed?

Two very different recently announced initiatives are hoping to make some progress with the vexed question of managing data centre power use and emissions.

In one of these, Vertiv, a global provider of critical infrastructure and continuity solutions, has announced that the Clean Hydrogen Partnership, which aims to accelerate the development and improvement of advanced clean hydrogen technologies, will provide EUR 2.5 million (about $2.8 million) to help fund a project to develop low-carbon fuel cells for power data centres. It is hoped this could reduce carbon emissions from operations by up to 100 percent.

The EcoEdge PrimePower (E2P2) project is describe as a novel proof-of-concept initiative aiming to develop and demonstrate low environmental impact fuel cells that provide economic and resilient prime power solutions for the data centre environment.

A consortium of seven companies — Equinix, InfraPrime, RISE, Snam, SolidPower, TEC4FUELS and Vertiv — will explore an innovative integration of solid-oxide fuel cells with uninterruptible power supply (UPS) technology and lithium-ion batteries to provide resilient and clean primary power to data centre deployments and other critical infrastructure.

Vertiv says implementing natural gas solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC) as a prime power application will be instrumental to pave the way for the use of green hydrogen for fuel cells application, for both backup and prime power systems.

Meanwhile Guangdong province in China is opting for a very different approach: it’s planning to move some large data centres underwater.

The province, a major tech hub, has published a five-year plan for its marine economy, which includes a goal to move “high energy-consuming data centres” into the sea to reduce the energy used in cooling them.

This isn’t happening out of the blue. The move follows successful trials of underwater data centres in Shenzhen by Highlander, a specialist firm, and Microsoft’s two-year test of Project Natick, an underwater data centre that operated off the coast of Scotland. Natick showed that hardware in underwater data centres operated more reliably shielded from human intervention in an inert nitrogen atmosphere.

As we have noted in earlier reports, China’s central government is nervous about the environmental consequences of uncontrolled data centre expansion, while Greenpeace has criticized China's data centre industry both for its slow progress on adopting renewable energy and for its lack of transparency.


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