I’ve heard from a couple sources that fuel cell maker Bloom Energy is the supplier behind Apple’s planned massive 5 MW fuel cell farm to be built at its data center in Maiden, North Carolina. However, neither Bloom Energy nor Apple would comment on any potential deal. I’ve also heard that Apple already has a few Bloom fuel cells running on its campus.
But it would make sense if Bloom is involved. Last month, Apple unveiled that it planned to build one of the largest fuel cell farms at its data center in North Carolina. The planned 5 MW fuel cell farm is supposed to run on biogas (methane from organic waste) when installed, according to Apple. Bloom’s fuel cells are large boxes that suck up oxygen on one side and fuel (natural gas or biogas) on the other to produce power. That means that with the fuel cells (and a solar array that will be built) Apple’s data center will have a source of cleaner distributed power that isn’t coming from the local utility via the grid.
Bloom offers boxes capable of supplying 100 kW, which could translate into 50 Bloom Boxes being installed at Apple’s data center. Bloom has been in negotiations for similarly large-sized deals in the past, such as its negotiations in Delaware to build a 30 MW fuel cell farm (300 Bloom Boxes), and it has already installed 12 Bloom Boxes at Adobe’s campus in San Jose, Calif.
Apple is also touting the fact that its fuel cells will be run on biogas, and Bloom has substantial experience selling biogas-based fuel cells. Both Adobe and eBay are running their Bloom fuel cells on biogas. Bloom has also been the go-to fuel cell maker for Internet, telecom and computing giants’ experiments with fuel cells.
There are only a few fuel cell companies that even have the capacity to be in the running for such a deal. Beyond Bloom, there’s UTC Power, a division of United Technologies, one of the older fuel cell makers. UTC Power sells a 400 kW phosphoric acid fuel cell and says it has sold 50 of these 400 kW units to customers worldwide since 2009, according to its 2011 annual report. If you divide up Apple’s planned 5 MW (5,000 kW) fuel cell farm into UTC’s 400 kW integrals, you get 12.5 fuel cells — the math doesn’t exactly work.
FuelCell Energy could also be behind the deal, but FuelCell Energy tells me that “Apple is not a customer at present and there is not an FCE plant operating at the Cupertino facility.”
I’m not 100 percent sure of this news, but pretty sure. I’ll update this if I hear more or if I’m wrong.