Detailed Information on Apple’s North Carolina Fuel Cell System Published

02 Apr 2012

Apple to Install 5 MW Fuel Cell System at its North Carolina Data Centre

In February Apple published its Facilities Report 2012 Environmental Update, which revealed plans for a 5 MW biogas-fed fuel cell installation and a 20 MW solar array at the company’s 500,000 square foot Maiden, North Carolina data centre – home to over 100 million iCloud accounts.

On Thursday (29th March 2012), Apple filed its plans for the fuel cell installation with the State of North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC). When Apple first revealed it was to build a 5 MW biogas-fuelled fuel cell system speculation was rife as to the specifics of the installation; the NCUC filing reveals several pieces of interesting information:

  • The complete system has a total generating capacity of 4.8 MW, not 5 MW
  • The facility will comprise twenty-four 200 kW fuel cell systems
  • Each one of these 200 kW AC systems comprises six DC modules
  • The facility will be fuelled by directed biogas
  • The facility will be connected to local gas provider Piedmont Natural Gas
  • The fuel cell systems will sit on a common concrete pad out of doors and Apple does not anticipate construction of any buildings in connection with the facility
  • The systems will be installed in a phased manner and interconnected as completed
  • The initial systems may begin generating electricity as early as June 2012
  • It is anticipated that all the systems will be online by 30th November 2012

After the Facilities Report Update was published it was widely speculated that Californian solid oxide fuel cell manufacturer Bloom Energy was to supply the fuel cell systems for the facility; Bloom has seen a wave of smaller installations across big names in Silicon Valley in the last few years, many of which have run on biogas. The information in the NCUC filing solidifies this theory in several ways:

  • Bloom’s ES-5700 Energy Server is a 200 kW system comprising six 33.33 kW ‘hot boxes’
  • The system is fuelled by either natural gas or directed biogas
  • Installations to date have been interconnected and sited outdoors on concrete pads (see end image)

Further to this, and most importantly, the NCUC filing contains a table of fuel cell system emissions, below, which are direct matches to the emissions detailed on the Bloom ES-5700 Energy Server technical specifications

Emissions from Apple's NCUC filing
NOx <0.07 lbs/MW-hr
SOx negligible
CO <0.10 lbs/MW-hr
VOCs <0.02 lbs/MW-hr
CO2 @ specified efficiency* 773 lbs/MW-hr; on biogas, carbon is biogenic
*Electrical efficiency (LHV net AC) >50%

UTC Power and FuelCell Energy, two of the only other companies capable of installing such a system, do not offer systems that match the specifications in the NCUC filing. However, without an official press release from either Apple or Bloom Energy, Fuel Cell Today can neither confirm nor deny that the installation will be from Bloom Energy, but an increasingly irrefutable amount of evidence is pointing in that direction.

 

Reference: The State of North Carolina Utilities Commission

Top Image: Apple's North Carolina data centre (Source: Apple)

End Image: Bloom fuel cells installed on a concrete pad at the Fireman's Fund (Source: Bloom Energy)

Bloom Fireman's Fund Installation


Industry Directory: Bloom Energy

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