Static fuel cell provides back up power to California data centre

static fuel cell

Honda has announced the commencement of operations for a static fuel cell power station on its corporate campus in Torrance, California, marking the company’s first step toward future commercialisation of zero-emission backup power generation.

The initiative leverages Honda’s hydrogen fuel cell technology expertise and contributes to the company’s global goal to achieve carbon neutrality for all products and corporate activities by 2050. 

Now fully operational as a demonstration program, Honda’s fuel cell power station supplies clean and quiet emergency backup power to the data centre on the campus of American Honda Motor Co. In the coming years, Honda will begin applying a next-generation stationary fuel cell system to Honda manufacturing facilities and data centres globally, thereby reducing the company’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The demonstration stationary fuel cell unit has a capacity of approximately 500 kilowatts (kW) and reuses the fuel cell systems of previously leased Honda Clarity Fuel Cell vehicles, with a design that allows the output to increase every 250 kW packaged with four fuel cells. It features the flexibility to change the layout of the fuel cell units to suit the installation environment and to accommodate cubic, L-shaped, Z-shaped, and other packaging configurations. Future stationary FC units intended for commercialisation will utilise Honda’s next-generation FC system jointly developed with General Motors and also set to power an all-new fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) based on the Honda CR-V coming in 2024.

Over the last few years, the power requirements of data centres have been growing rapidly due to the expansion of cloud computing and big data utilisation, and the need for backup power sources has been increasing from the perspective of business continuity planning. The Torrance fuel cell station also serves as a proof of concept for future commercialisation of the power generation unit.

“We believe there is great promise in hydrogen fuel cells for backup power and offsetting potential peak power events,” said Koji Moriyama, project lead of the stationary fuel cell and principal engineer with American Honda R&D Business Unit. “By installing and utilising our core technology, the fuel cell system, in various applications such as stationary power generation, Honda aims to stimulate hydrogen usage and provide clean energy for potential commercial customers.”

Data centres require high-quality and reliable power, where any disruption in power supply can lead to downtime or problems such as data corruption and damage to servers.  Typical stationary backup generators rely on diesel fuel, which result in higher carbon emissions and local air pollutants. Backup power systems utilising hydrogen fuel cells offer a promising future for clean, yet reliable and high-quality power generation, especially when operating on so-called ‘green hydrogen’ made from renewable sources, with water vapor as the only emission. 

Hydrogen can be stored and transported with a high energy density, and can be refilled in a short time. The ‘hydrogen circulation cycle’, which starts with renewable energy, consists of three phases – ‘generate’, ‘store/transport’ and ‘use’. Starting with the use of water electrolysis technology, electricity derived from renewable energy sources can be converted into green hydrogen, making it less susceptible to fluctuations in power generation due to seasonality and weather conditions. It also becomes possible to transport the energy to where it is needed in the form of ‘green hydrogen’ via transport by land, sea, and pipeline.

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