Data center startup ECL plans to deploy hydrogen-powered modular data centers that are built using 3D printing and require no local power and water. The company, which is led by industry veteran Yuval Bachar, also announced $7 million in seed financing from Molex Ventures and Hyperwise Ventures.
Bachar says ECL is pioneering a necessary shift to fully-sustainable digital infrastructure that can operate off the grid.
"We’re trying to define a new category of data centers,” said Bachar. “A lot of people say sustainability is not feasible right now, but maybe in 5 to 10 years. We are trying to show that it is possible to have sustainability right now.”
ECL says it will be the first data center company to operate production facilities using energy from hydrogen, which is a leading option for creating sustainable data centers. Microsoft and Equinix are among the companies testing on-site power using hydrogen, which can reduce reliance on grid power sourced from fossil fuels, as well as diesel fuel for generators.
Hydrogen has always been envisioned as a potential fuel to power a clean revolution, albeit some years from reaching the economics and scale for data center production.
Bachar says that hydrogen-powered future has arrived. The company’s first 1 megawatt facility is under construction in Mountain View, Calif, and will come online in the second quarter of 2023. It will feature on-site power generation with hydrogen fuel cells and will reuse the water byproduct in the data center’s high-density cooling system.
The ECLBlock design will houses 20 to 24 racks with up to 50 kW of power per cabinet, enabled by a proprietary rear-door heat exchanger. ECL will incorporate an energy storage system, and is expected to operate with a Power Usage Effectiveness rating of 1.05.
Bachar says ECL is creating its data centers using 3D printing technology and a reproducible design, which will make construction faster and cheaper. ECL doesn’t depend on local utilities, which reduces planning and construction timelines.
“The innovations we are announcing today set a new bar for flexibility and sustainability in the global data center industry,” said Bachar. “Never before has hydrogen been harnessed for use as the primary power source for the data center and that, combined with the unmatched efficiency of our cooling system and our emissions-free operations, is unique in the world today.”
An Experienced Team
Bachar has held data center leadership positions with Microsoft Azure, LinkedIn, Facebook, Cisco, and Juniper Networks. He was a founder of the Open19 project, which creates open hardware designs for enterprise users, and holds eight U.S. patents in data center, networking and system design. The ECL team currently includes 7 experienced data center professionals.
“ECL has a long lead on the competition in delivery of a data center powered primarily by green hydrogen and we can’t wait to stand with them as they raise the curtain in Q2 2023,” said Nathan Shuchami, Managing Partner at Hyperwise Ventures. “We are proud to be a part of this much-needed revolution in the data center industry, and look forward to working closely with Yuval and his team as they bring this peerless innovation to market.”
ECL’s business model is flexible, as it can build a facility for a customer, build and operate the facility, or work in joint ventures that support multiple stakeholders. Its flagship offering will be a Data Center-as-a-Service plan supported by an advanced full data center management system – ECL Lightning – which will monitor and control every aspect of the data center, from power generation to rack cooling.
The 1-megawatt design can be used for edge deployments and on-premises data centers, but also can be adapted for hyperscale deployments. ECL has a 24-megawatt design that requires just 1.5 acres of land.
“We can scale it from 1 megawatt all the way to whatever size we want, because we are repeating that 1 meg again and again and again,” he said.
Pioneering Hydrogen Power in Data Centers
Bachar says the availability of hydrogen can now support facilities like data centers. ECL data centers can be supplied by either a pipeline or deliveries by truck. The on-site hydrogen storage tanks provide capacity for 3 to 6 days of operation before needing to be resupplied.
“We are working very, very closely with six suppliers of hydrogen in the U.S.,” said Bachar. “They all have distribution hubs across the United States. We do not see any concern about the availability, delivery and even cost of hydrogen.”
The design can support fuel cells and batteries from a variety of vendors, but the initial deployment in Mountain View will feature a Plug Power fuel cell and Tesla battery.
One of the unique aspects of the ECL design is its plan to use 3D printing in construction, where the technique has been used to create new homes. Bachar said the 3D building system the company is using is mobile and can travel in several shipping containers. It takes about a day to break down for travel, and 18 hours to reassemble in a new location.
On the cooling front, ECL will use a novel custom rear-door heat exchanger. “We're creating an extremely high level of efficiency in the doors, and we can mix and match doors (for different rack densities)," he said.
Bachar: Green Doesn't Have to Cost More
Bachar says ECL intends to dispel the notion of a "green premium."
"A lot of people say 'if you give me a sustainable data centers, I'm probably going to have to pay a huge premium,'" he said. "Our message is that is not correct. You don't have to pay more to be sustainable. It comes with a price tag which is completely comparable to traditional colocation, and we can put it in places where the traditional colocation facilities don't have access to power."
The prospect of "off the grid" operation raises intriguing possibilities, as leading data center markets like Santa Clara and Northern Virginia are grappling with power constraints that limit new connections for large electricity users. As we noted in the DCF 2023 Forecast: "In 2023 we will see more data center projects that include on-site energy generation to enable expansion in grid-constrained markets."
Bachar said ECL has the potential to democratize innovations that have previously been limited to the hyperscale computing sector.
“There is a group of companies in the world that can actually do almost everything that they want - the Amazons, the Facebooks, the Microsoft and the Googles," said Bachar. "The rest of the world doesn't have access to the same technologies and resources. We know that we have a solution which is going to work, that is safe, and is going to be competitive as a business.
"We're pioneering technology that a lot of people want to have, but nobody's willing to take the risk to build," he added. "We were lucky enough to have supportive investors to say 'go do it.'"