Fujitsu taps hydrogen power to fuel energy savings

2008 Green 15: On-site source of clean-energy augments a datacenter's other green initiatives

Fujitsu is by no means new to the green-tech party: Since launching a broad environmental initiative way back 1991, the company has worked diligently to reduce waste and pollutants within its operations while advancing the green features in its array of products.

One of the feathers in the company's green cap for 2007 was the installation of a hydrogen fuel cell at its Sunnyvale, Calif., campus. This was the first project of its kind for a high-tech company in the state, giving Fujitsu an ample, 99.99-percent-reliable, on-site source of clean energy.

A hydrogen fuel cell works by combining hydrogen fuel and oxygen from the air to produce electricity, heat, and water. One of its greenest accomplishments is that it reduces how much heat is wasted in generating electricity.

According to UTC, which supplied the power cell system, a power plant typically releases 67 percent of the energy from fuel as waste heat, with just the remaining 33 percent turning into usable electricity. By comparison, fuel cell technology wastes only 20 percent of its energy; the remaining 80 percent becomes electricity.

Beyond putting the energy to good effect, Fujitsu recycles the hot water the cell generates by piping it through a heat exchanger and using it for campus heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems.

Fast payback and a sweetener
At the time of installation, Fujitsu expected the fuel cell would generate 200 kW of electricity, enough to meet fully half of the power needed to cool the campus' datacenter and lab. According to Richard McCormack, senior VP of marketing, the generator has exceeded those predictions: "It's been more efficient and has produced more power."

The company initially anticipated a payback of about 3.5 years for the system, but it now believes it may get a faster payback, given its performance record thus far. (The total lifespan of the system is 15 years.)

Sweetening the deal: Fujitsu received a $500,000 incentive from Northern California utility PG&E to help finance the project, part of its Self-Generation Incentive Program. Thanks to the success of the program, the company anticipates installing hydrogen cells at its other datacenter throughout the country.

Just one piece of the puzzle
The hydrogen fuel-cell installation is just one part of Fujitsu's ongoing effort to cut energy usage and associated waste in Sunnyvale (and beyond).

For example, the company undertook an effort to hunt down and unplug numerous machines that had been decommissioned on paper, yet were still plugged in and wasting watts -- a common problem at large datacenters. "Don't believe the inventory or asset reports," McCormack advises. "Go and physically look. It's shocking to many IT organizations."

The company has also adopted and developed green-tech practices such as virtualizing its servers (once the excess machines had been unplugged), as well as implementing more sophisticated systems designed to chill individual machines, rather than needlessly filling the entire facility with cold air.

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