Caterpillar Demonstrates Viability of Using Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology for Backup Power at Microsoft Data Center

Caterpillar Inc. announced the success of 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 centers. The demonstration provided valuable 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 and validated the hydrogen fuel cell power system’s performance 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 (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 that form the central structure of the hydrogen power solution. “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.

“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.”

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

“We see the completion of this demonstration as an important proof point of the reliability and durability of Ballard’s fuel cells in providing zero-emission backup power for data centers,” said David Mucciacciaro, Chief Commercial Officer of Ballard Power Systems. “We are excited about the ability of our products to meet the critical power needs of data center customers in this rapidly growing sector.”

Demonstrated Leadership in Hydrogen-Fueled Power Solutions

Caterpillar, along with its global Cat dealer network, helps customers meet uptime commitments at thousands of data center facilities worldwide, offering highly responsive power solutions and expertise, including specification, installation, commissioning and service.

Caterpillar’s hydrogen-fuel power technologies include a range of commercially available power solutions capable of operating natural gas blended with up to 25% hydrogen by volume. They also have a project with Minnesota-based District Energy St. Paul to demonstrate a hydrogen-fueled combined heat and power (CHP) system.

In addition to power solutions using hydrogen and other fuels to help reduce carbon emissions, Caterpillar offers a broad portfolio of products to help customers achieve their climate-related goals. These include Distributed Energy Resource Management System (DERMS) software solutions for monitoring, managing and monetizing on-site energy assets, a full hybrid energy solutions technology suite, Cat CHP systems and combined cooling, heating, and power (CCHP) systems, and systems that can operate on hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), biodiesel, and blended fuel products.