Caterpillar said it has successfully demonstrated the viability of using large-format hydrogen fuel cells to supply backup power for data centers, following its collaboration with Microsoft and Ballard Power Systems.

The company says the demonstration provided insights into the capabilities of fuel cell systems to power multi-megawatt data centers, ensuring uninterrupted power supply to meet 99.999% uptime requirements.

The demonstration was conducted in a “challenging” environment, Caterpillar said, 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 center in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where a hydrogen fuel cell was integrated into a data center electrical plant to support its critical load.

A Caterpillar Microgrid Controller was used to operate two Cat Power Grid Stabilization 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.

“This successful collaboration with Microsoft and Ballard demonstrates the potential of hydrogen fuel cells to help data centers address their critical power needs while reducing their emissions,” said Jaime Mineart, senior vice president of Caterpillar Electric Power.

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

“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 center 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.”

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