Caterpillar demonstrates hydrogen fuel cell technology at Microsoft Data Centre

Caterpillar announced the success of its collaboration with Microsoft and Ballard Power Systems to demonstrate the viability of using large-format hydrogen fuel cells to supply reliable and sustainable backup power for data centres. The demonstration provided valuable insights into the capabilities of fuel cell systems to power multi-megawatt data centres, ensuring uninterrupted power supply to meet 99.999% uptime requirements.

The demonstration was conducted in a challenging environment and validated the hydrogen fuel cell power system’s performance at 6,086 ft (1,855 m) above sea level and in below-freezing conditions. The project simulated a 48-hour backup power event at Microsoft’s data centre in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where a hydrogen fuel cell was integrated into a data centre electrical plant to support its critical load. A Caterpillar Microgrid Controller was used to operate two Cat® Power Grid Stabilisation (PGS) 1260 battery energy storage systems along with the 1.5 MW hydrogen fuel cell.

Caterpillar led the project, providing the overall system integration, power electronics, and microgrid controls that form the central structure of the hydrogen power solution. “This successful collaboration with Microsoft and Ballard demonstrates the potential of hydrogen fuel cells to help data centres address their critical power needs while reducing their emissions,” said Jaime Mineart, senior vice president of Caterpillar Electric Power.

“This project’s success provides an opportunity for hyperscale providers to drive innovations in the sustainability of power generation technologies,” said Sean James, senior director of data centre research at Microsoft. “The research and findings of the hydrogen fuel cell demonstration will help us towards our goal of becoming carbon negative by 2030.”

The project is supported and partially funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office (DOE) under the H2@Scale initiative, which brings stakeholders together to advance affordable hydrogen production, transport, storage and utilisation in multiple energy sectors. During the demonstration, the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) analysed safety, techno-economics, and greenhouse gas (GHG) impacts.

“We see the completion of this demonstration as an important proof point of the reliability and durability of Ballard’s fuel cells in providing zero-emission backup power for data centres,” said David Mucciacciaro, Chief Commercial Officer of Ballard Power Systems. “We are excited about the ability of our products to meet the critical power needs of data centre customers in this rapidly growing sector.”

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