EBay Data Center Will Use Biogas to Power Online Transactions

EBay's alternative-energy fuel cells are manufactured by Bloom Energy.

Online auction site eBay has revealed plans to power the next phase of its massive data center in Utah with six megawatts’ worth of alternative-energy fuel cells built by Bloom Energy.

Fuel cells rely on electrochemical reactions to convert fuel into electricity. Unlike batteries, they require oxygen and a renewed source of fuel (which can be any number of materials, including hydrogen). Bloom Energy’s flagship solid oxide fuel cells use ceramic material coated with proprietary inks, which the company claims is more environmentally friendly than fuel cells that rely on some combination of precious metals, acids and molten material.

In the case of eBay, the fuel cells will be powered by biogas, or the gaseous byproduct of organic waste decomposition. EBay’s new data center will utilize thirty Boom Energy servers, each packed with fuel cells and capable of supplying 1.75 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per year. The project will apparently be fully functional by mid-2013.

“Technology-led innovation is changing retail and revolutionizing how people shop and pay,” John Donahoe, president and CEO of eBay, wrote in a June 21 statement. “We also want to revolutionize how shopping is powered. We are embracing disruptive energy technology and designing it into our core data center energy architecture.”

The conventional electricity grid will continue to power the existing eBay datacenter onsite, and will serve as a backup for the new datacenter. This isn’t eBay’s first alternative energy project: a fuel-cell installation (also built by Bloom Energy) provides electricity for its San Jose headquarters, while data centers in Utah and Denver benefit from solar arrays.

Nor is eBay the only technology company exploring how to lower its data centers’ carbon footprint. Engineers and others involved in Facebook’s Open Compute Project have designed data centers with an eye toward massive energy efficiency. The social network’s Prineville, Oregon data center, built according to the principles developed by the project, reportedly relies on 38 percent less energy than Facebook’s existing facilities.

In the small town of Maiden, North Carolina, Apple designed its massive data center to be energy efficient, from the painted-white roof for maximum solar reflectivity to the real-time energy monitoring that takes place as part of its operations. Apple has a stated goal of running the data center with a “high percentage renewable energy mix,” with 60 percent of the necessary electricity generated onsite. As with eBay, Apple plans on using fuel cells to make that vision a reality.

 

Image: Bloom Energy