iDataCenter Will Use Landfill-Powered Bloom Boxes

A look at the Bloom Energy Servers installed on the eBay campus in San Jose. Apple will use 24 biogas-fueled Bloom boxes at its North Carolina data center. (Photo: Bloom Energy)

Apple will use biogas from landfills to generate electricity for its massive data center in North Carolina, the company said in a regulatory filing. The biogas will be converted into power using fuel cells from Bloom Energy, which is ramping up its production to meet demand from Apple and other new clients.

In February Apple announced plans to deploy a huge solar array and a 5 megawatt fuel cell facility at its iDataCenter in Maiden, North Carolina. State filings revealed that Bloom Energy would provide the fuel cells, but there were fewer details about the fuel source.

Apple will use methane from landfills, which will be transported via a natural gas pipeline system, according to a filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The raw biogas will be cleaned and separated to increase the methane content and remove unwanted components (including sulfide, chlorine and sulfur) before being injected into the natural gas pipeline.

Microsoft Also Eyes Biogas for Data Centers

Apple isn’t the only large data center operator pursuing this strategy. Microsoft is planning to build data plants where modular data centers will be powered by renewable energy, including biogas from water treatment plants and landfills.

Apple says that using biogas will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants while diversifying the fuel mix for its data center energy.  The announcement of the fuel cell sparked speculation that Apple might use biogass from pig manure as a fuel source. But the FERC filing indicates that Apple will use landfill gas rather than manure digester gas.

The installation is expected to feature 24 200-kilowatt Bloom Energy Servers placed on outdoor pads, according to regulatory filingsBloom Energy is converting a former Chrysler auto assembly plant in Delaware into a manufacturing facility to churn out its Bloom Energy Servers for East Coast customers, including Apple.

The Bloom Energy Server is based on solid oxide fuel cell technology that converts fuel to electricity through an electro-chemical reaction, without any combustion. Because they are housed at the customer premises, the Bloom box can continue operating during grid outages.

“Once the Bloom Energy Manufacturing Center is completed, we will double Bloom Energy’s production capacity,” said KR Sridhar, Principal Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Bloom Energy. “Delaware complements our California roots and strategically positions us to better serve our expanding customer base.”

Bloom Gains Traction in Data Center Sector

The Apple deal is the largest step yet in Bloom’s focus on the data center industry. Bloom has seen good traction from data center providers in California, stemming partly from concerns about future energy pricing in the state. In 2011 both AT&T and NTT announced purchases of Bloom units to support their data centers in California.

Last month Bloom hired industry veteran Peter Gross to head its new Mission Critical Practice, which will focus on deploying Bloom boxes in new configurations in which they play a more central role in the power infrastructure. Gross sees Bloom boxes powered by natural gas serving as the primary form of power, with the utility grid used as a backup service. This configuration envisions dual-corded servers, with one input from the Bloom and the other from the grid. This approach would allow data center operators to reduce their reliance on diesel backup generators.

The Bloom Energy Manufacturing Center will become the anchor tenant of the new University of Delaware Science, Technology and Advanced Research Campus. Construction is expected to be completed in mid-2013, with manufacturing set to begin shortly afterwards.

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About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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  1. Jeff McCloud

    JULY 2012 FEDERAL LAWSUIT REGARDING BLOOM ENERGY "Buried deep in the permit application, in Table 1 on page 161 of a 163-page application, was the number 884. On that page, under penalty of perjury, Bloom officially told the world that its energy servers emit 884 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour." Also buried on page 161 of the permit application is a Table 2 notation that says these 235 “clean” servers would emit 22.56 pounds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) per day. But Delaware, like other states, regulates VOC emissions at far lower levels (Maryland, for instance, regulates boat repair shops that emit more than 15 pounds per day). Moreover, if the same amount of power had been generated by combined cycle gas turbines, only 0.249 pounds of VOCs would be emitted daily. That’s 90 times less pollution! To top it off, because of the Bloom servers’ low efficiency and high capital cost, Delaware citizens will pay Bloom over $200 per megawatt hour of power delivered to their electricity transmission grid. But in January 2012, the U.S. Energy Information Agency said the projected “levelized” cost of electricity over the next 30 years from advanced gas-fired combined cycle power stations is $65.50 per MWH.

  2. Robert Bashford

    The City and Residents near the Old Chrysler Automobile Assembly Plant are fighting against the pollution of a proposed Data Center to be built by The Data Center LLC using natural gas as a generator of power for the Data Center. The resulting pollution from this plant on The STAR Campus has the neighbors around The DATA Center up in arms over the proposed installation in Newark Delaware.