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A new reason to use fuel cells for datacenters: fire prevention

IntroFire prevention is the latest benefit of using fuel cells in datacenters, according to datacenter giant Equinix, a German project developer and fuel cell maker Fuji Electric. datacenter operators have been experimenting with using fuel cells to increase the use of off-grid energy and cleaner power. But at least one datacenter operator is citing yet another reason for installing a fuel cell system in its datacenter in Frankfurt, Germany: fire prevention. Earlier this month Equinix announced that it’s installed a fuel cell at its FR4 datacenter, which will be able to generate 800,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year and another 600,000 kilowatt hours kilowatt hours/a of heating. The fuel cell was made by Japanese giant Fuji Electric and was installed by German project developer N2telligence. Fuel cells are industrial units that take fuel, usually natural gas or biogas, and combine it with a catalyst to produce electricity and heat. Because the boxes are installed close to the source that uses the power they can be more efficient (energy isn’t lost over transmission lines bringing the power to the datacenter), and because natural gas and bio gas tend to emit less carbon than grid coal power, they can be cleaner, too. Beyond the fact that fuel cells can be cleaner and more efficient, datacenter companies like eBay and Microsoft have been using them as a way to take smaller datacenters off the grid. That way they are more resilient if the grid goes down. Equinix says in addition to resiliency and environmentalism, it’s also using the fuel cells for the more unusual reason of fire prevention. The company says the Fuji Electric fuel cells produce nitrogen-rich air that can fill buildings and help prevent fires. Fires are relatively rare in datacenters, but when they happen they can bring down internet companies services. Equinix says that because of the fire prevention aspect, this installation is the only one in the world with this high level of datacenter integration. Equinix and N2telligence will be monitoring the fuel cells, and the project was created in conjunction with the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Initiative Hessen (H2BZ).
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