Cat, Ballard launch hydrogen test project

By Jack Burke22 November 2021

Three-year project

Caterpillar and Ballard Power Systems have launched a three-year project to demonstrate a power system incorporating a large-format hydrogen fuel cell to produce backup power for data centers.

The project is at a Microsoft data center in Quincy, Washington, USA, and is supported and partially funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) under the H2@Scale initiative and backed by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL).

Caterpillar experts in advanced power technologies, controls and system integration are working alongside Microsoft experts in data center design and Ballard experts in fuel cell design to demonstrate the 1.5 MW backup power delivery and control system that would meet or exceed the expectations set by the current diesel engine systems.

As the prime contractor on the project, Caterpillar is providing the overall system integration, power electronics, and controls that form the central structure of the power solution, which will be fueled by low-carbon-intensity hydrogen. Ballard is supplying an advanced, 1.5 MW ClearGen-II hydrogen fuel cell power generator. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is performing analyses on safety, techno-economics, and greenhouse gas (GHG) impacts.

The companies said the demonstration will provide key insights into the capability of fuel cell systems to serve multi-megawatt data centers by providing uninterruptible power that supports 99.999% uptime requirements. The project will also explore the scalability of fuel cell systems powered by low-carbon-intensity hydrogen from cost and performance perspectives, including 48-hour operation using on-site fuel, power transfer time, and load acceptance.

The Caterpillar-led program is one of 18 projects that have been awarded a share of funding under the DOE’s H2@Scale initiative. The awards are managed by the DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Office’s (EERE’s) Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office, with contributions from EERE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office and Vehicle Technologies Office.

Ballard Power Systems’ ClearGen-II advanced hydrogen fuel cell.

“At Caterpillar, we focus on supporting our customers with reliable, resilient and economical power solutions while achieving their climate-related goals,” said Jason Kaiser, vice president of Caterpillar Electric Power. “This hydrogen fuel cell demonstration project enables us to collaborate with industry leaders to take a large step toward commercially viable power solutions that also support our customers in making their operations more sustainable.”

Christian Belady, Distinguished Engineer and VP, Advanced Development, Cloud Operations + Innovation at Microsoft, said this project will provide valuable insights into how to leverage hydrogen fuel cells for backup power in our data centers at scale.

“We are excited to be collaborating with a complementary team of global industry leaders on this important demonstration project,” said Randy MacEwen, Ballard’s President & CEO. “The results of this project will provide key insights into the capability of fuel cell systems to scale and serve multi-megawatt data centers.”

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