Success for Ballard, Caterpillar and Microsoft fuel cell demo

7 February 2024

Caterpillar says 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 has been successful. 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, says Caterpillar, and validated hydrogen fuel cell power system performance at 6086 ft (1855 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 Stabilization (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. “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.

“The research and findings of the hydrogen fuel cell demonstration will help us towards our goal of becoming carbon negative by 2030,” said Sean James, senior director of data center research at Microsoft.

The project is supported and partially funded by the US Department of Energy Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office under the H2@Scale initiative, which brings stakeholders together to advance affordable hydrogen production, transport, storage and utilisation in a range of applications. During the demonstration, the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) analysed safety, technoeconomic, and greenhouse gas impacts.

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