Apple to Build 5 MW Biogas Fuel Cell at Maiden Data Center

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Apple to Build 5 MW Biogas Fuel Cell at Maiden Data CenterApple’s energy- and material-efficient data center located in Maiden, North Carolina
02 April 2012

Apple has filed its plans to build the 5 MW fuel cell project in Maiden, North Carolina, that will utilise biogas to offset its natural gas use and qualify as a renewable facility.

According to Apple's 2012 Facilities Report, the commissioning of its new data center in Maiden is part of its commitment to reduce the environmental impact of its facilities through energy efficient, green building design.

The company said that the facility is exceptionally energy efficient and has earned the coveted LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The recently completed Maiden facility is where the computing giant supports services such as its iCloud online data storage system and its SIRI voice-recognition software.

Data center's are notoriously hungry for energy. To meet the energy needs of the Maiden facility with high-percentage renewable energy mix, Apple said that it has embarked on a renewable energy program.

As part of this program, the company is building a fuel cell installation that it said, when online later in 2012, will be the largest non-utility fuel cell installation operating anywhere in the country.
Apple to Build 5 MW Biogas Fuel Cell at Maiden Data Center
The 5 MW facility, located directly adjacent to the data center, will be powered by 100% biogas, and provide more than 40 million kWh of 24x7 baseload renewable energy annually.

Additionally, Apple is building the nation's largest end user-owned, onsite solar array on the land surrounding the data center. When completed, this 100 acre, 20 MW facility will supply 42 million kWh of clean, renewable energy annually.

Energy efficient design features:
  • A chilled water storage system to improve chiller efficiency by transferring 10,400 kWh of electricity consumption from peak to off-peak hours each day
  • Use of "free" outside air cooling through a waterside economiser operation during night and cool-weather hours, which, along with water storage, allows the chillers to be turned off more than 75% of the time
  • Extreme precision in managing cooling distribution for cold-air containment pods, with variable-speed fans controlled to exactly match air flow to server requirements from moment to moment
  • Power distributed at higher voltages, which increases efficiency by reducing power loss.
  • White cool-roof design to provide maximum solar reflectivity
  • High-efficiency LED lighting combined with motion sensors
  • Real-time power monitoring and analytics during operations
  • Construction processes that utilised 14% recycled materials, diverted 93% of construction waste from landfills, and sourced 41% of purchased materials within 500 miles of the site.
According to a report by the News & Observer of Raleigh, the facility will likely utilise biogas from landfill or some another source to offset its natural gas use and qualify as a renewable facility.

While Apple has not officially commented on the choice technology partner for the project, Tech news website, GigaOM reported that it is "pretty sure" the company will go with Sunnyvale, California based fuel cell manufacturer, Bloomenergy, which recently launched its 'Mission Critical Systems Practice'.

Data centers require very high availability. In a statement related to the launch of the Mission Critical Systems Practice, vice president, Peter Gross explained:

"Bloom Energy will now fill a critical need in the data center industry. By providing a reliable, clean and stable energy source that is immune to disruptions to the grid, Bloom will help its customers reduce their security risks considerably, while at the same time improving efficiency and cutting greenhouse gas emissions."

According to Bloomenergy, its fuel cell modules are currently used by Walmart, Google, Staples, eBay, Cox Enterprises, FedEx, Bank of America, Coca-Cola, AT&T and Adobe, according to Bloom's web site.

bloomenergy fuel cell apple maidenWalmart has completed the installation of Bloomenergy's system at two stores in southern California, each at 400kW, generating approximately 3.4 million kWh annually
Solid oxide fuel cells

According to Bloomenergy, legacy fuel cell technologies like proton exchange membranes (PEMs), phosphoric acid fuel cells (PAFCs), and molten carbonate fuel cells (MCFCs), have all required expensive precious metals, corrosive acids, or hard to contain molten materials.

While Some modifying such systems to supply combined heat and power (CHP) does improve the economic value proposition, it only really does so in environments with exactly the right ratios of heat and power requirements on a 24/7/365 basis. Everywhere else, the company claimed that the cost, complexity, and customisation of CHP tends to outweigh the benefits.

The company said that for some time Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFCs) hold the greatest potential of any fuel cell technology. With low cost ceramic materials, and extremely high electrical efficiencies, SOFCs can deliver attractive economics without relying on CHP.

However, while operating at temperatures typically over 800 degrees C the technology offers extremely high electrical efficiency, and fuel flexibility, these characteristics have also thrown up challenges that have led to the technology being difficult to commercialise.

According to the company breakthroughs in materials science, combined with it innovative new design, have enabled it to offer a cost effective, all-electric solution SOFC system.

The company offers the 100 kW ES-5400 and the 200 kW ES-5700.

Both systems operate using the same technology, where the electrolyte is a solid ceramic material. The anode and cathode are made from special inks that coat the electrolyte. No precious metals, corrosive acids, or molten materials are required.

Next, the company said that an electrochemical reaction converts fuel and air into electricity without combustion.

At high temperature, warmed air enters the cathode side of the fuel cell and steam mixes with fuel to produce reformed fuel, which then enters the anode side.

Then the chemical reaction begins in the fuel cell. As the reformed fuel crosses the anode, it attracts oxygen ions from the cathode. The oxygen ions combine with the reformed fuel to produce electricity, water, and small amounts of carbon dioxide.

The company said that the water gets recycled to produce the steam needed to reform the fuel. The process also generates the heat required by the fuel cell.


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