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Sprint Takes HFC Technology to Rooftops with Help from Department of Energy

Sprint announced today it will deploy hydrogen fuel cell (HFC) technology as backup power to its rooftop network sites thanks to a grant from the Department of Energy (DOE). The solution should allow for lower site maintenance and cleaner network energy sources and will increase network survivability during power outages.

This is not the first time Sprint and the DOE have come together to deploy hydrogen fuel cells as an energy source for their network. Sprint pioneered the introduction of fuel cell technology to ground-based networks in 2005. In 2009 the DOE provided a $7.3M grant for Sprint to support fuel cell technology advances. Rooftop cell sites comprise almost 25 percent of Sprint’s total network locations, for which fuel cells have not been an option for fuel cell deployment until now. As much as 30 percent of total network cell sites are located on rooftops in some major metropolitan areas.

"We are excited to once again partner with the DOE to bring a new fuel cell technology solution to the market,” said Bob Azzi, chief network officer at Sprint. “To date, we’ve deployed approximately 500 hydrogen fuel cells in our network. This technology will provide backup power for our network and could extend to other industries as well.”

Although the full scope and financial aid of the project is yet to be determined, but expected in the next 60 days, Sprint is hopeful to begin installing the HFC solution by the end of 2014. Today, the primary desired outcome of the program is to develop economically and operationally viable methodologies to scale up the deployment of rooftop fuel cell deployments. Both Sprint and the DOE hope this can also promote further HFC advancement across a multitude of industries.

The technology, still in development, could enable innovative approaches to promote rooftop fuel cell deployments. One such approach is a modular and lightweight fuel cell solution that can be easily installed without heavy cranes and can be refueled from the ground – overcoming the need to transport fuel to rooftops.

HFCs — which have gained the most attention in the context of automotive innovation — provide a much cleaner alternative to diesel-powered backup generators, a common solution with negative outcomes such as increasing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, increased risk of ground contaminants and higher maintenance costs. Although their use is required in many cases, Sprint strives to limit the deployment of new fossil fuel generators that exhaust GHGs. Sprint is working to reduce its GHG emissions by an absolute 20 percent by 2017. Several states are in the process of instituting strict generator exhaust emission legislation that can impose hefty fines on violators. Unlike fossil fuel-based generators most commonly used to provide backup power, HFCs generate no GHGs in creating electricity.

Sprint was recently honored as the most “eco focused” wireless carrier by Compass Intelligence and has been widely recognized for its environmental commitments to decrease energy use, enable more eco-friendly mobile solutions, and offer industry-leading wireless recycling programs.

Sprint leads the industry in phone recycling. Last year, the wireless carrier reclaimed 4.4 million phones through voluntary collection programs — compared to AT&T’s 3.1 million and Verizon’s 3 million — and in September, Guinness World Records recognized Sprint for shattering the record for the number of cellular phones recycled in one week: 103,582 – more than double the previous record. Sprint continues to highlight the environmental benefits of phone recycling and to raise awareness around the financial benefits of its phone trade-in program, where customers can receive up to a $300 credit as part of the Sprint Buyback Program.


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