Fuel cells and the future of data centers.

by Michele Denti, Sales Engineer Cefla – NOVA Project Team Leader

If we look at the way data centers have evolved, especially since the end of the 20th century, there’s been unprecedented acceleration and unstoppable expansion.

These days, a data center that fails to guarantee security and stability of service would be unthinkable. What’s more, it has to ensure continuity. Given its energy requirements, it must also have built-in resilience and efficiency. For data center designers in Italy, Europe or elsewhere, security, operational continuity and sustainability are indispensable.

A high-efficiency solution

NOVA is the energy of the future, a project that merges the fuel cell technology developed by Bloom Energy with the unmatched experience of Cefla, a company that has completed entire data centers. The latest example? The Tecnopolo in Bologna, which hosts the Leonardo supercomputer managed by CINECA. Given the enormous energy requirements of a data center, maximum efficiency is a must.

Power ratings remaining equal, fuel cell technology is 25% more efficient than a combustion engine source. It guarantees an electrical efficiency of 54% throughout its life cycle. It’s stable and secure and runs 365 days a year, 24/7 – just like a data center. It requires hardly any maintenance: the fuel cell ‘core’ is simply replaced every five years. In short, fuel cells deliver all the stability, continuity and efficiency required in a data center. Now all that’s needed is an expert capable of providing integrated solutions for new data centers or efficiency enhancement for existing ones.

For over 90 years, Cefla has been delivering complex civil and industrial plant engineering solutions, creating practical yet innovative facilities that safeguard the environment and enhance quality of life. Completed projects include the Teatro alla Scala, the Uffizi Gallery and numerous office buildings in major Italian cities. For 40 years Cefla has built cogeneration, trigeneration and energy retrieval plants and managed the factories, production lines and energy systems of major companies. Today, Cefla is Bloom Energy’s partner in the construction and distribution of new Fuel Cell Energy Server™ systems.

Flexible, sustainable and custom-made

The modular NOVA solution is always sized according to the electrical baseload. It merges seamlessly with existing power supply systems such as the national grid, and with the cooling units. When designing a new data center, NOVA forms a crucial part of a mains-independent microgrid, capable of supplying secure, stable, continuous energy.

From an energy transition perspective, NOVA goes to the heart of the issue as it can adapt to any primary source. Such smart flexibility makes it appealing to those who use 100% natural gas, RNG and biogas, a mixture of natural gas and hydrogen, or 100% hydrogen (when the latter becomes a competitive, widely available alternative). Furthermore, switching from one source to another requires no changes of any kind, apart from the transition to 100% hydrogen which involves replacement of the fuel cell module core.

NOVA puts clean energy and reliability within everyone’s grasp. With such strong environmental credentials, it’s clear why Cefla and Bloom Energy have decided to focus on this solution. The beauty of fuel cells is that they do not actually burn any fuel.

This is why they’re so environment-friendly. Zero unburned fuel, zero NOx, SOx and CO, and CO2 emissions some 25-30% lower than those produced by an internal combustion engine. Yet the sustainability doesn’t end there. Smooth management of the fuel cells – which work independently from the power grid – ensures the NOVA solution is economically sustainable and gives greater control over data center financials.

Planning together to optimise long-term efficiency

Data centers are designed to last a long time; NOVA constitutes one of the key parts of the entire facility.

Beyond the advantages of the technology, the flexibility and the economic advantages, this solution offers the added value of a team of experts who provide close customer support every step of the way: from preliminary analysis of energy requirements to advanced maintenance.

The latter consists of continuous systems monitoring. In turn, this delivers ongoing improvements to plant operation and higher efficiency over time. Cefla also designs and produces the technological systems used in data centers, is involved in building construction and provides maintenance services throughout Italy.

Cefla and Bloom Energy are partners on the Italian market. They offer a unique opportunity to create the data center of tomorrow: efficient, resilient, sustainable and, thanks to modular design, highly customisable.

To learn more about the technology and discover its potential: