back to article Ireland to develop datacenter powered by fuel cells

Ireland looks set to get a datacenter powered entirely by fuel cell technology thanks to an agreement between a local company and a division of Korean conglomerate SK Group. SK Ecoplant said it signed a memorandum of understanding with Lumcloon Energy, a project development biz based in County Offaly to the west of Dublin that …

  1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "powered initially by gas, moving to hydrogen in future."

    Leaving aside the fact that hydrogen is also a gas, powering the fuel cell by natural gas, i.e. methane, is hardly decarbonising the operation compared to using the same gas to fuel a gas turbine-driven generator. The significant question is how is the long-term hydrogen to be obtained? If that involves simply transferring electrical energy from some other source into chemical energy in the form of H2 why not use that electrical energy directly?

    Fuel cells and hydrogen make sense (give or take the difficulties of handling hydrogen) where the energy is to be deployed in situations which are intrinsically disconnected from the grid such as vehicles. The only point I can see for a static installation such as a data centre is green-washing.

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Getting the hydrogen is easy: just an electrolysis plant close by, powered by a stationary diesel generator.

      Oh, wait... perhaps it is just greenwashing then.

    2. ComputerSays_noAbsolutelyNo Silver badge

      Ireland has plenty of wind generation potential on and near its coasts.

      Since, off- and onshore wind parks have most probably more lead-time than a data center, even when it's powered by fuel cells, it may make sense to initially provide the hydrogen via the methane route and then switchover to electrolysis hydrogen when it becomes available.

      On the other hand, it may be blatant green washing.

      Only time can tell.

      1. ACZ

        Wind would definitely be nicer - actual renewable power. However, I suspect that one of the big wins with the fuel cells will be the relatively short delivery timescale and the stability of the power supply - you can have as many wind turbines as you like, but if there's no wind then you'll be sharing the same very finite grid resources as everybody else.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          American offshore proposals and installations are already being abandoned as uneconomic. That shouldn't really be a surprise to anyone

          I can't see Irish offshore windfarms being any different in the long term. Marine environment is unforgiving and vastly more expensive to maintain than onshore wind, despite the greater energies extractable

          In any case, with the best will in the world renewables can slightly outproduce existing electrical generation capacity but there's a big gap between eliminating 1/3 of carbon emissions and going any further

          (FWIW, the latest reports are showing that increased use of renewables across Europe has resulted in INCREASED carbon emissions, which defeats their purpose)

      2. Geoff Campbell Silver badge

        "Time will tell"

        <checks watch>

        That's quite long enough. It's green-washing, with perhaps a side-order of subsidy-farming.


      3. katrinab Silver badge

        Right now, that wind energy is used to power the grid, reducing the need to import from the UK most of the time, and exported to the UK when there is a surplus. I think that is the best way to do it.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      If this reduces grid load/gives them grid stability then great. SOFCs are more efficient than gas turbine generators, and the transmisson loss from on-site generators will be minimal compared to power coming from the grid.

      With SOFCs, there is also a lot of waste heat that needs disposing of (despite all the heat exchangers used to recover and reuse thermal energy). It would be great if that could go to some kind of a district heating project.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "SOFCs are more efficient than gas turbine generators, and the transmisson loss from on-site generators will be minimal compared to power coming from the grid."

        Where does the hydrogen come from? If it's from electrolysis you have to consider the transmission losses to the electrolysis plant and the electrolysis itself. Where is the electrolysis plant? if it isn't on-site you have to factor in the energy needed to pump it and, hydrogen being hydrogen, the losses from the joints in the pipework, the replacement of the pipework due to embrittlement etc. If the plant is on-site the transmission losses are the same as you'd have had powering the data centre direct plus an addition to the second order effect of transmission losses incurred in transmitting the energy that's lost in the course of hydrolysis.

        If a fuel cell facility helps stabilize the grid then surely this is a matter for the grid operator rather than a grid customer.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          No need for electrolysis - it's possible to feed various fuels direct into SOFC devices and chemically break them down e.g. with a reformer to produce hydrogen. Just needs heat + water, which the SOFC produces plenty of. Then, feed the hydrogen into the fuel cell. Overall, it's vastly more efficient than burning the methane and driving a mechanical turbine to generate electricity.

        2. Alan Brown Silver badge

          "Where does the hydrogen come from?"

          Most current technology commercialy available fuel cell electrical sources split methane and use that. The extra heat output is dumped to atmosphere along with the CO2 or used to heat water

          These have been around for over a decade but they're still expensive and by the time you factor in the methane splitting energy losses it's a coin toss whether a standard combustion engine is more efficient overall

          Yes, a fuel cell is ~50% efficient but you're losing half the energy extractable from methane by splitting it into hydrogen

          The announcement and proposals smell strongly of greenwashing and/or subsidy farming

    4. Spazturtle Silver badge

      "is hardly decarbonising the operation compared to using the same gas to fuel a gas turbine-driven generator. "

      Fuel cells don't produce incomplete combustion products and particulates though.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Neither do CCGTs

    5. katrinab Silver badge

      I don't agree. If you are producing the hydrogen from methane which is the most common way to do it, just burn the methane directly.

      If you are producing it using electrolysis, the second most common way to do it, just use the electricity to charge a battery. One you consider the tank you need to store the hydrogen, the energy density works out about the same as batteries, the only advantage comes from charging / refueling time; and batteries are much more efficient.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Can they not cut costs with datacentres by taking the heat produced and turning that into power then feeding it back in?

    1. stewwy

      Steam engines are the future :-)

  3. Alan Bourke

    " ... is planned to be sited ... in Castlelost ..."

    I'm sure I wandered around there when I was playing Elden Ring.

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