Many companies talk the talk when it comes to going green, but online auction behemoth eBay is walking the walk by building what will become the largest data center in the US powered by non-utility fuel cells when it opens in Utah in mid-2013. The massive data farm will employ over two dozen Bloom Energy servers totaling a combined output of six megawatts, relegating the traditional electric utility grid to backup chores only.
eBay’s renewable energy effort trumps that of Apple, which itself is constructing a 4.8-megawatt Bloom Energy fuel data center in North Carolina. For eBay, the Utah data center marks its fifth and largest renewable energy installation to date, and also positions the auction company as the largest tech firm to turn to alternative power as a primary source for data centers.
Fuel cells in their current state are large box-like power generators that convert fuel into electricity through a clean chemical reaction as opposed to combustion. Bloom Energy likens fuel cells to batteries, albeit much bigger than anything you could hope to stick in your digital camera, and they always run.
Bloom Energy fuel cells provide 24/7 clean power.
Researchers are hard at work shrinking fuel cells into so-called micro fuel cell (MFC) formfor use with consumer electronics, and the technology could very well be the key component in tomorrow’s increasingly power hungry devices. One of the many challenges facing fuel cell technology is molding them into various shapes and forms the way lithium-ion batteries come, though initially, you can expect the technology to manifest in portable power bricks that you could carry around and plug your device into when it gets low on juice. Cost is another consideration that could delay widespread adoption.
In the meantime, fuel cells are becoming increasingly popular in data farms, like the one eBay is building in Utah, a state whose grid is powered by inexpensive coal. A total of 30 Bloom Energy servers will generate a whopping 1.75 million kilowatt-hours of clean electricity per year, providing enough on-site power for operation 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, eBay says.
“By being a trail blazer and deploying a brand new, revolutionary architecture to build its new data center, eBay is raising the standard for the entire industry,” says KR Sridhar, co-founder and CEO of Bloom Energy.
Bloom Energy’s fuel cells run on biogas derived from organic waste from landfills and farms. eBay also operates a 500 kW Bloom fuel cell data center at its San Jose facility.