Technology collaboration on non-transportation fuel cell systems: Daimler partners with computing experts to transfer automotive fuel cell technology to carbon-free energy supply systems

Technology collaboration on non-transportation fuel cell systems: Daimler partners with computing experts to transfer automotive fuel cell technology to carbon-free energy supply systems

Nov 10, 2017

With the world premiere of pre-production models of the Mercedes-Benz GLC F-CELL at this year’s IAA in Frankfurt, Daimler presented its latest generation fuel cell technology: 30 percent smaller, 40 percent more power and with a size that now fits into the engine compartment of Mercedes-Benz passenger vehicles. These new innovative systems are more flexible than ever before, and are now being deployed in the non-transportation sector as well. Daimler with its one hundred percent owned subsidiary NuCellSys and together with Mercedes-Benz Research and Development North America (MBRDNA) and Daimler Innovations Lab1886 is now expanding the use case of the innovative automotive fuel cell technology. Collaborating with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), Power Innovations (PI) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Daimler is utilizing its automotive fuel cell systems in stationary power systems to demonstrate a sustainable and independent energy supply for data center and to accelerate the transition to renewable energy generation and supply.

Stuttgart/Sunnyvale - Fuel cell technology is an integral part of Daimler’s powertrain strategy. The company has already gathered experience with hydrogen-powered electric vehicles over several vehicle generations and millions of test kilometres around the world and recently presented the next step with pre-production models of the Mercedes-Benz GLC F‑CELL. Convinced of the potential of fuel cell technology and hydrogen as an energy storage medium in the context of the overall energy system, the company follows a holistic approach and extends its development activities into non-transportation industries. Joining forces with industry leaders Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and Power Innovations (PI), a LiteOn company, Daimler AG with its subsidiary company NuCellSys GmbH and supported by MBRDNA and Daimler Innovations Lab1886, will develop prototype systems starting this year for back-up and continuous power solutions for data centers and other stationary applications using automotive hydrogen fuel cell systems.

“The maturity of automotive fuel cell systems is unquestioned today. They are ready for everyday use and constitute a viable option for the transportation sector. However, the opportunities for hydrogen beyond the mobility sector – energy, industrial and residential sectors – are versatile and require the development of new strategies. Economies of scale and therefore modularization are important challenges”, says Prof. Dr. Christian Mohrdieck, Fuel Cell Director at Daimler AG and CEO of Daimler’s subsidiary NuCellSys.

Fuel cells as an ideal choice for micro-grids within data centers

Data centers are some of the largest consumers of power in the new economy, and the growth rate of this power consumption is significant as well. U.S. data centers are projected to consume an estimated 140 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity per year by 2020, equivalent to the annual output of about 50 power plants, emitting nearly 100 million metric tons of carbon pollution per year, according to a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The increasing power requirements must be balanced with the provisioning of sustainable energy supplies that meet and exceed environmental standards. Fuel cells are a very promising technology in this field. No other power technology can offer the high reliability, unlimited scalability, and renewable energy benefits without costly utility dependency like the fuel cell can. With a constant supply of hydrogen, the fuel cell will keep supplying power. The technology relies on an electrochemical reaction like a battery, but, unlike a battery, fuel cells have a limitless capability. The high reliability, low emission rates, low noise levels and dramatically reduced footprint make fuel cells the ideal choice for micro-grids within data centers. Those technical benefits combined with the unlimited scalability, lowered maintenance, and cost efficiency can solve the massive energy storage requirements for today's data centers.

“Rapidly escalating power demands are putting pressure on traditional power delivery solutions. The use of Daimler fuel cells for continuous and back-up power solutions will allow us to explore new, sustainable, cost-effective and rapid methods to power our customers’ data centers”, said Bill Mannel, VP & GM HPC and AI, Hewlett Packard Enterprise. HPE is working with the collaboration partners to integrate fuel cell power systems with its current IT infrastructure solutions, including the HPE Apollo 6000 Gen10, HPE SGI 8600, and other HPE platforms.

Holistic approach for carbon-free energy supply

In order to enable a 24/7 data center power supply when using renewable energy, Daimler, HPE and PI re-think power generation and incorporate hydrogen storage and fuel cell systems to supply power directly to the racks of computer servers housed in data centers. The novel concept of a “hydrogen-based” carbon-free data center utilizes hydrogen fuel cells, electrolyzers, storage, solar (photovoltaic) cells and wind turbines. The partners thereby mitigate the intermittency and variability of renewable sources. The idea is to have the basic power supply of the data center covered by solar power stations and wind turbines. Under conditions where solar and wind electrical generation exceeds total electricity demand of the data center, rather than curtailing generation, the excess power can be used to generate and store hydrogen. In situations where data center electrical demand exceeds solar and wind generation, or even during power outages, the hydrogen fuel cells can provide sustainable power from the stored hydrogen. What is most attractive about this automotive fuel cell application is that it helps simplify data center power generation and distribution with a significantly reduced carbon footprint. Traditional power distribution can constitute 30-40% of total construction costs for a new data center. This new power provisioning approach significantly lowers the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of the data center by negating the need for diesel generators, central uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), switchgear, and expensive copper power lines.

Power Innovations is an established expert in delivering flexible, state-of-the-art, and efficient power generation and management solutions. As the system integrator for the fuel cell partnership, PI will use its expertise in small footprint, high yield power grids to redefine sustainability for the industry. “The data center is just the first stop on our journey to fundamentally changing how we harness renewable energy. Within a very short timeframe, we can achieve our vision of a safer and renewable future for all of our customers - mostly notably our military and homeland security markets,” added Robert L. Mount, President, Power Innovations. 

Further use of automotive fuel cells accelerates the energy transition

Efficient management of energy and material resources also applies to all components used in electromobility. Daimler’s sustainability approach, within the context of implementing “CASE” goes far beyond the automotive product. The company and its one hundred percent subsidiary NuCellSys, pioneer and worldwide leading company in the development of hydrogen fuel systems for automotive applications, are contributing several fuel cell powertrain systems to the innovative project in order to set up the first prototype systems for energy supply together with the partners. The systems correspond to the latest technology generation, presented with preproduction models of the Mercedes-Benz GLC F‑CELL at this year’s IAA in Frankfurt. The concept evolved by Daimler Innovations Lab1886, the pioneering think tank of Daimler AG, together with NuCellSys and Mercedes-Benz Research and Development North America hereby opens a potentially new field of business with stationary energy generation. Developed for the demanding service on board cars, the Mercedes-Benz fuel cell systems meet the very highest safety and quality standards, making them ideal for integration into today's data centers.

The partners will present first project results with a prototype system at this year’s SuperComputing 2017 conference in Denver, November 13 - 17.

The project will begin a pilot phase next year when Daimler, HPE and PI will team up with the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL). NREL is world-renowned in the areas of sustainable data centers and renewable energy, as well as hydrogen generation, storage, and safety standards. “We look forward to this collaboration with Daimler, HPE, and PI to leverage our facilities and expertise to demonstrate a first of a kind integrated hydrogen fuel cell data center concept.” Dr. Steven Hammond, Computational Science Center Director at NREL.

Daimler transfers its automotive fuel cell technology to stationary power systems to demonstrate: Sustainable and independent energy supply for data center
Daimler transfers its automotive fuel cell technology to stationary power systems to demonstrate: Sustainable and independent energy supply for data center