The U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institute of Health have begun exploring whether fuel cell technology can be used to power the NIH’s data center facilities.
NIH houses a 25,000-square-foot mainframe data center and a separate 5,500-square-foot facility for Unix and Windows machines, which together use about one megawatt of energy a month.
A fuel cell costs about 10 times that of a generator, and those firms that have either adopted fuel cells in data centers are typically located in high-rise buildings where generators aren’t an option, or in situations requiring portable energy supplies.
American Power Conversion Corporation’s fuel cell technology can support up to 30 kilowatts of electricity — about the amount some large blade servers use — and gets about 10 minutes from each tank of hydrogen, which are typically the size of a welder’s tank. The fuel cell will continue to supply power as long as it doesn’t run out of hydrogen fuel.
Other technologies are getting attention too. Flywheel technologies from companies such as Pentadyne Power Corp. in Dallas, and Emmerson Network Power’s Liebert Corp. in Columbus — which are working together on that technology — and Active Power Inc. in Austin, Texas are getting attention. In the event of a power interruption, the spinning flywheels can provide power in lieu of batteries until the data center generators kick on.