Apple to build major fuel cell installation for data center

Green power for your iCloud application will come from natural gas and solar.

04/05/2012


Apple is building a new data center that will feature two cutting edge sustainable power schemes, photovoltaics and fuel cells. This in itself is interesting, but the fact that it is being built in North Carolina and not the left coast is particularly curious. (Full disclosure: My family and I own many Apple products and have been users since buying our first 512k Macintosh in 1985. I still have it. Don’t ask me why we thought we needed a computer back then.)

The initial plan for the site calls for a 4.8 MW fuel cell facility, which they are characterizing as the largest private (i.e., non-utility company) installation in the U.S. Bloom Energy is providing the solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) for the project that will be fueled with natural gas. This specific fuel cell technology is simple and very efficient (in fuel cell terms) but runs at high temperatures, usually in the 800 to 1,000 °C neighborhood, which normally limits it to larger stationary installations. At that temperature, natural gas can be reformed into hydrogen which the cell uses. The leftover carbon atom combines with atmospheric oxygen and goes out the stack as carbon dioxide. So, even if there is no combustion, there is a greenhouse gas aspect to it, albeit a small one in that the fuel cell produces more electricity per unit of natural gas than normal combustion technologies. Efficiencies of SOFCs are normally >60% even if you don’t capture the waste heat. (Read a Control Engineering article from 2007 on fuel cell technologies.)

I haven’t seen any indication if Apple plans on recovering the waste heat off the fuel cells. Given the high temperature of SOFCs, some installations have used a recovered heat boiler similar to those used in a combined-cycle gas turbine facility. If they aren’t using it to make steam, I’m not sure what you would do with that much heat at a giant server farm.

This project isn’t cheap, but if any company has the cash to undertake something on this scale, it’s Apple. Estimates suggest it will cost around $30 million for that generating capacity. However, once they’re past the initial cost, generating costs are very low and reliability is exceptionally high, hence its desirability for a data center. The next construction phase planned is a 20 MW photovoltaic installation, much larger than any other in the state.

Now, where did I put my iPad?



No comments
Consulting-Specifying Engineer's Product of the Year (POY) contest is the premier award for new products in the HVAC, fire, electrical, and...
Consulting-Specifying Engineer magazine is dedicated to encouraging and recognizing the most talented young individuals...
The MEP Giants program lists the top mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineering firms in the United States.
Integrating electrical and HVAC for energy efficiency; Mixed-use buildings; ASHRAE 90.4; Wireless fire alarms assessment and challenges
integrated building networks, NFPA 99, recover waste heat, chilled water systems, Internet of Things, BAS controls
40 Under 40; Performance-based design; Clean agent fire suppression; NFPA 92; Future of commissioning; Successful project management principles
Transformers; Electrical system design; Selecting and sizing transformers; Grounded and ungrounded system design, Paralleling generator systems
Commissioning electrical systems; Designing emergency and standby generator systems; VFDs in high-performance buildings
Tying a microgrid to the smart grid; Paralleling generator systems; Previewing NEC 2017 changes
As brand protection manager for Eaton’s Electrical Sector, Tom Grace oversees counterfeit awareness...
Amara Rozgus is chief editor and content manager of Consulting-Specifier Engineer magazine.
IEEE power industry experts bring their combined experience in the electrical power industry...
Michael Heinsdorf, P.E., LEED AP, CDT is an Engineering Specification Writer at ARCOM MasterSpec.
Automation Engineer; Wood Group
System Integrator; Cross Integrated Systems Group
Fire & Life Safety Engineer; Technip USA Inc.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me