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Apple reveals more details about its fuel cell farm

Updated: Last month Apple unveiled that it plans to build both a massive fuel cell farm and a huge solar farm at its data center in Maiden, North Carolina. Now, late last week, in a filing with the North Carolina Utilities Commission, Apple let loose a few more details about its fuel cell plans (hat tip Wired and the local News & Observer, reposted by the News & Record).

Apple says in the filing that it will install twenty four 200 kW fuel cells at an outdoor site next to its data center, and the fuel cells could start generating electricity, using biogas, as early as June 2012. Apple expects the entire 4.8 MW system to be online by November 30, 2012.

Apple didn’t name the fuel cell supplier in the filing, but the fact that it will use 200 kW fuel cells points the finger even more solidly at the Valley’s Bloom Energy. Bloom Energy sells both 100 kW (ES-5400) and 200 kW (the ES-5700) fuel cells. UTC, another fuel cell maker, only sells a 400 kW fuel cell.

I wrote last month that it looked like Bloom Energy is the supplier for Apple’s fuel cells. This local report states that Bloom Energy is indeed the supplier for Apple’s fuel cell farm, but doesn’t say where it got that info. That local report also says that Apple “will extract hydrogen from natural gas supplied by Piedmont Natural Gas,” and then “will arrange to produce landfill methane gas or some other biogas to offset its natural gas use.”

Update: I’ve embedded below Bloom Energy’s filing with the NCUC asking that the NCUC declare that biogas is a “renewable energy source,” so that customers that want to run Bloom fuel cells off of biogas can earn Renewable Energy Credits (RECs). Thanks to News & Observer reporter John Murawski for finding the filing.

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. With Apple’s fuel cell farm and its solar farm it will be able to partly power its data center with clean distributed power that isn’t coming from the local utility via the grid. North Carolina has some of the dirtiest (but cheapest) grid electricity in the country.

Internet companies are increasingly experimenting with energy efficiency and clean power for their data centers. While all data center operators are looking to reduce the overall energy consumption of data centers, it’s still early days for adding clean power to data centers. For example, Amazon’s web infrastructure guru James Hamilton isn’t quite convinced that solar technology is a good fit for data centers.

Bloom Energy’s filing:

7 Responses to “Apple reveals more details about its fuel cell farm”

  1. lstroud73

    While North Carolina may have a number of coal plants, the region of North Carolina where Apple and Google have located is almost completely nuclear powered. They are less than 30 miles from a nuclear power plant. So, it is unlikely that this move would be motivated by any environmental concerns.

  2. Martin V.

    I wonder how much money this is going to cost Bloom? Good exposure though but you know Apple is calling the shots here. Good to see people are finally realizing the benefits of Fuel Cell Technology… Here is an interesting link that makes you wonder why gasoline is close to $5 gal.

    “New sewage gas station in Orange County, CA may be world’s first”

    Our Senate/Congress probably think a fuel cell is a “gas tank”?