eBay: Bloom Boxes Will Power Utah Data Center

A bank of Bloom Energy Server fuel cells. eBay said this week that it will use “Bloom boxes” like these to power its new data center in South Jorden, Utah. (Photo: Bloom Energy)

The newest eBay data center project in Utah will run entirely on power generated by fuel cells from Bloom Energy, the company said this week. The use of the Bloom Energy Servers – also known as “Bloom boxes” – will give eBay a cleaner energy profile, allowing it to power its facility with biogas rather than coal-sourced power from local utilities.

Perhaps more importantly, eBay will overhaul its power infrastructure to dramatically reduce its reliance on uninterruptible power supply (UPS) units and backup generators. If the Bloom fuel cells providing primary power should experience problems, eBay will use the utility grid as its backup power source. In a traditional configuration, data centers use the utility grid for primary power, with UPS units and backup generators providing emergency power in the event of grid outages.

“It is really throwing out the way people have done it in the past,” eBay data center executive Dean Nelson told The New York Times, which first reported the news of eBay’s decision. “You can build a better mousetrap.”

eBay will use 30 Bloom boxes in the second phase of its data center campus in South Jordan, Utah, which the company has dubbed Project Quicksilver. Bloom Energy Servers have a capacity of 200 kilowatts, meaning a 30-unit installation would support up to 6 megawatts of critical power. The new facility will be a “greenfield” construction project optimized for modular (containerized) data centers, and will build upon the designs being implemented in eBay’s first modular project in Phoenix, Arizona.

Backup Equipment “Absent” in New Design

eBay says the new design will forego traditional data center backup systems, which will “increases the reliability of our power supply while also stabilizing our costs and reducing our environmental impact.,” the company said.

This would be consistent with Bloom’s vision for new designs that place the Bloom Energy Server in a featured role in data center power infrastructure.

In a March interview with Data Center Knowledge, Bloom’s Peter Gross described power distribution schemes featuring dual-corded servers, with one input from the Bloom systems and the other from the grid. This approach would allow data center operators to reduce their reliance on diesel backup generators.

“The Bloom can reduce energy consumption and eliminate a significant number of high-cost components,” said Gross. “It’s highly unlikely that both power sources (the Bloom and the utility) would go away.”

Altering the Economics of Power Infrastructure?

Such a configuration could alter the historic economics of using fuel cells in data centers. One of the primary barriers to adoption has been the cost of the fuel cells. But if using Bloom boxes allows data centers to eliminate expenses for UPS units and generators, the cost equation looks very different.

The first phase of eBay’s Utah facility supports production web sites for eBay.com and PayPal, the huge payment processing service owned by eBay. It’s not clear whether the workloads will differ in the second phase of the project. In the Phoenix Project Mercury data center, eBay used a traditional raised-floor data center for some workloads and modular data centers for others.

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. Bloom boxes can run on natural gas or a range of other biofuels, including methane gas from landfills. eBay will use biogas to support its Bloom fuel cells.

The eBay project is the second huge win for Bloom on a high-profile data center project. Apple recently confirmed that it will use 24 Bloom boxes to provide renewable power to support its facility in Maiden, North Carolina. Apple’s Bloom boxes will provide only part of the power required to operates its data center, with utility power and solar arrays providing the balance.

Here’s a look at illustrations from eBay depicting the changes in the Utah data design, showing the initial design with UPS and generators and the updated approach using just Bloom Energy Servers, which illustrate the impact on the infrastructure.

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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. Bon Jovianski

    Now show a map illustration with (6) CAPSTONE MICROTURBINE (C1000s). NOW: "Show" a Map of the money trail "COSTS)". Show a map of all the peoples being ripped off by this. Starting with the American Taxpayers. Then explain "WHY" RUSSIA, ITALY, BRITIAN, MEXICO, COLOMBIA, SOUTH AMERICA & the rest of the world doesn't think like that! This is a mere (8) million dollar project at Capstone. Don't know how much the BOOM BOX costs. Last time I calculated it was for the UTX rip off at the TWIN TOWERS Trade center replacements. That was ($27 MILLIOM) dollars. (30) BOOMBOXES are pretty close to that I'll bet! America needs help!

  2. Jeff McCloud

    FYI Federal Lawsuit Regarding Bloom Energy http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2012/06/21/884-May-Be-Bloom-Energys-Fatal-Number-Fuel-Cell-Efficiency-Federal-State-Tax-Credits "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.

  3. Kevin Bone

    eBay has been working with Bloom Energy since June 2009. Here we are in 2012 and you are saying their accountants are fools and their executives idiots? After three years I would suppose they have a pretty accurate figure for the cost per kWh. They certainly wouldn't be using that solution again if it had created more problems than it solved. But then, some people still insist that a vacuum tube creates different boolean results than a solid state semiconductor. Fortunately there were other companies "foolish" enough to give up glass and gas for melted sand. (A picture is forming in my mind of a neanderthal computer with 2.3 billion glass tubes blinking on and off as your Curmudgeon Core i7 processes away). I'm sure there have been plenty of problems with Bloom servers. Some probably felt that death was near. Fortunately, companies with more silly accountants like Google, eBay, Apple and so can afford to help the servers evolve into something very promising. A lot of money will change hands as legacy methods become obsolete and better energy generation progresses.

  4. Peak Oil

    I think they've set up in Tasmaina, small pilot scheme with 30 houses. Each house has one unit. I think decentralised power is the future.

  5. I live in LOS ALAMOS NM USA. We have a critical mass of scientists in our town. Come - try to sell your Bloom Boxes to the residents of the Atomic City. If you can sell the idea here you can sell the devices to the whole world!