by Katherine Walsh

Fuel Cells Equal Cleaner Backup Power for Data Centers

Apr 05, 20072 mins
Green IT

In years to come, instead of a battery, a bottle of hydrogen may keep your systems running. Tru Vue, a picture framing and glazing product manu­facturer, is the first U.S. company to use American Power Conversion’s InfraStruxure with integrated fuel cells in its data center. The original InfraStruxure solution is a rack-optimized data center enclosure that offers power and cooling management. Polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells, incorporated into the new design, make InfraStruxure a more efficient way to keep data centers running during a power failure. Hydrogen is stored outside the data center and carried through pipes to the cells, which replace batteries and generators for backup power. Tru Vue has been using the system since March.

Jacob Nelson, lead network administrator at Tru Vue, says his company needed to affordably provide extended run time to its data center, a critical factor as it supports multiple remote sites.

Fuel cells make the most sense in cities where diesel generators are not feasible, when run-time requirements would call for batteries that are too large or costly, or for environmental sustainability reasons, says APC product line manager Randy Wyatt. Because their only byproducts are heat and water, fuel cells have zero carbon emissions. Generators and batteries can produce toxins.

Why haven’t fuel cell solutions gone mainstream? APC’s Wyatt says acquisition costs remain high, since the young technology is produced at low volume. However, Wyatt predicts that lower lifecycle maintenance cost will help. As the first U.S. customer (APC has a few fuel cell customers in Canada and Japan), Tru Vue received some price breaks plus tax credits. The price tag, including installation, came to about $67,000, says Nelson.

“We don’t run a very large data center, so for our size, the cost of the fuel cells was appropriate,” he says.