Apple is (finally) confirmed as Bloom Energy’s customer


Updated: Last month I exclusively reported that Apple was buying fuel cells from Bloom Energy for its data center in Maiden, North Carolina. However at the time neither company would confirm the deal. Well, on Monday morning Bloom Energy has finally confirmed that yes, it is supplying fuel cells for Apple’s data center, reports CNET.

Fuel cells take fuel (natural gas or biogas) and combine it with oxygen and other chemicals to create an electrochemical reaction to produce electricity. Each of Bloom Energy’s next-generation fuel cells produces 200 kW of power right at a building.

Apple is planning to build a massive 4.8 MW fuel cell farm for a data center that will consume 20 MW, according to Apple’s latest figures. Apple is also building an adjacent 20 MW solar panel farm at the data center. While Greenpeace has given Apple low marks for building its data center in North Carolina, where the grid has a lot of coal power, Apple actually seems to be going to significant lengths to build its own clean power sources at the site itself.

On Monday morning Bloom Energy also held a ground breaking ceremony for its first factory on the east coast in Newark, Delaware, which could make some of the fuel cells that Apple will use at the North Carolina site. Update: Actually Apple’s fuel cell farm will be live by this Summer, and the Bloom factory won’t produce fuel cells until 2013. The east coast factory is expected to create hundreds of jobs and will make 1,000 Bloom boxes a year, reports CNET. The anchor customer for Bloom’s east coast factory is the local utility Delmarva Power & Light, which has about 500,000 electricity customers and plans to buy 30 MW worth of fuel cells from Bloom.

Apple’s fuel cell farm is supposed to run on biogas (gas emitted by decomposing organic waste). An increasing number of Internet companies, like Apple, Google and Microsoft, are experimenting with turning to biogas as an emerging source to power part of their data centers (see my primer on what you need to know about biogas and data centers). Bloom Energy recently launched a division specifically focused on providing reliable power for data centers.

Image courtesy of Bloom Energy at AT&T campus.

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