This fan wall is part of Equinix’s approach to sustainable operations at its SG5 data center in Singapore. (Photo: Equinix)
Equinix is researching the use of hydrogen as a green fuel source in the company’s data centers and has launched a research project in Singapore to develop a proof-of-concept, the company announced today.
As one of the largest data center operators, Equinix is positioned to play a leading role in the transition to greener energy technologies to support the growth of the internet. A key element of this transition is the development of sustainable power sources for the generators that provide backup power during power outages.
Equinix will work with the Center for Energy Research & Technology (CERT) to initiate a research project to compare the efficiency of proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells and fuel-flexible linear generator technologies. PEM fuel cells are a leading contender for hydrogen energy, while fuel-flexible linear generators allow operators to easily switch between different clean fuel options such as hydrogen, biogas and various renewable liquid fuels.
These technologies “can enable data centers to reduce carbon emissions while meeting increasing demand for data, colocation and interconnection services,” Equinix said. CERT is part of the College of Design and Engineering of the National University of Singapore (NUS).
Focus on tropical data centers
The research collaboration between Equinix and CERT will provide a holistic assessment of these tropical data center technologies, taking into account local climate conditions, site constraints, energy needs, supply chain, fuel storage capabilities, and local regulatory policies.
“Data centers serve as the conduit that powers the digital economy, and greening their operations can drive the rise of sustainable businesses across the economic landscape,” said Yee May Leong, Managing Director, South Asia, Equinix. “Working with like-minded partners like the Center for Energy Research & Technology at NUS, with the combined experience and expertise, empowers us to drive the growth of digital economies in line with environmental commitments, benefiting the data center industry, the global economy and the planet.”
As part of the research initiative, Equinix expects to develop proof-of-concept projects within its global network of data centers for real-world testing and integration into future data center designs.
“By fostering innovation in Singapore, the Equinix-CERT partnership aims to accelerate disruptive technologies that can reduce the carbon footprint of global data centers, particularly in tropical locations,” the partners said.
The potential of hydrogen power
Hydrogen has always been envisioned as a potential fuel for a clean revolution, but hydrogen fuel cells remained elusive as a production option because they lacked the economics and scale for data center production.
That began to change in July 2020 when Microsoft announced plans to end its reliance on diesel fuel by 2030, a decision with major implications for data centers around the world. As part of a redundant electrical infrastructure that also includes uninterruptible power supply systems (UPS) and batteries, diesel generators play a key role in ensuring mission-critical data center applications never go offline.
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After several years of testing, Microsoft recently partnered with Plug Power to provide a 3-megawatt hydrogen-powered power system large enough to replace a traditional diesel generator. This project also used PEM fuel cells, which combine hydrogen and oxygen in a chemical reaction that produces electricity, heat and water – with no combustion, no particulate matter and no carbon emissions. PEM fuel cells are widely used in the automotive industry because, like diesel engines, they can turn on and off quickly and follow a load up and down.
The Singapore project is part of Equinix’s future-first strategy to green the digital economy. Green hydrogen has been identified as a viable source of sustainable energy, but industrial-scale hydrogen production is still several years from commercial viability. In the meantime, Equinix aims to be operational as soon as fuel becomes available.
Building on green initiatives
Equinix is already part of the Clean Hydrogen Partnership, a European collaboration between seven companies – Equinix, InfraPrime, RISE, Snam, SOLIDpower, TEC4FUELS and Vertiv – to develop environmentally friendly fuel cells that include solid oxide fuel cells and UPS systems with lithium-ion batteries .
The digital infrastructure company has also created a co-innovation facility in Ashburn, Virginia, where it operates liquid-cooled servers backed by fuel cells, sodium-ion batteries, and intelligent power management.
A new vulnerability in Singapore is the focus on fuel-flexible linear generators that offer the ability to switch between fuels such as hydrogen, biogas and various renewable liquid fuels, allowing for the installation of infrastructure that can be easily adapted to market conditions and fuel availability in different regions .
“We are very interested in collaborating with industry partners such as Equinix, which is known for its sustainability efforts and provides us with access to a global network of data centers that can serve as a test bed for more accurate assessment of operational profitability,” Associate Professor Lee Poh Seng, Director, Center for Energy Research and Technology, NUS College of Design and Engineering. “Through this partnership, we look forward to playing a driving role in green data center innovations that can be applied in Singapore and globally.”