eBay’s Newest Is First Datacenter Run Entirely on Gas Fuel Cells

eBay’s newest datacenter runs entirely on gas-powered fuel cells

The National Security Administration’s brand-new, not-so-secret exascale facility in Bluffdale gets all the attention people in Utah can spare for datacenters, but eBay’s new site in South Jordan, Utah is breaking new ground, as well.

The online auction giant announced during a press event Sept. 26 that the primary power source for its newly opened Utah datacenter is a bank of 30 fuel cells that convert natural gas into electricity via a chemical process onsite.

The setup, built by NASA spinoff Bloom Energy, generates about 8 megawatts of power for the site.

The Bloom Energy Servers sit in a facility about 100 feet from the datacenter’s servers, taking in natural gas from Utah utility pipelines, mixing it with oxygen, and processing it using a proprietary process to produce electricity. Specifications for the equipment predict it will fail only one tenth as often as electricity from the grid.

eBay designed the facility to be as space- and energy-efficient as possible, working with Dell on a modular datacenter design dubbed EPIC, each piece of which contains 24 rack positions pulling a megawatt of power. eBay and Dell claim the setup yields the densest modular datacenter design in the world.

The site is also the world’s largest modular datacenter, according to eBay and Hewlett-Packard, which handled the integration and supplied its own equipment for an HP EcoPOD equipment room with 44 rack positions and 1.4 megawatts of power.

A second power system, under construction by eco-friendly energy company Ormat, will collect waste heat generated by the fuel-cell setup to generate another 5 megawatts. That system is scheduled to come online in about 18 months.

The new facility is, by itself, the second phase of a LEEDS-certified energy-efficient Topaz datacenter eBay unveiled in 2010 and upgraded with a 655 kilowatt solar-power system in 2012.

The new center is part of an overall eBay power-conservation effort whose goal is to source at least 8 percent of the company’s power from renewable sources by 2015.

The new facility generates only half the CO2 emissions of the Topaz site. The fuel cells should make the facility’s power-use far cleaner, and also more reliable and efficient, according to a report commissioned by eBay from the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign.

Bloom Energy, which built the fuel cells, has also sold installations to run on backup power at datacenters owned by Apple, Verizon, AT&T, NTT and others.

eBay revealed plans for the new datacenter and its fuel-cell power-plan in 2012, when it went by the codename Quicksilver, though the company expected at the time to have only about 1MW of its power capacity coming from fuel cells by the time it opened.

Google also uses Bloom Energy fuel cells in its network of datacenters, but the eBay facility is reportedly the first to run entirely from fuel cells and use power from the public grid only for backup.

The new facility also cost less than the previous energy-conserving datacenter next to it, according to eBay datacenter chief Dean Nelson.

The Bloom Energy Servers – at several hundred thousand dollars apiece – are more expensive than many other energy sources, but allow the facility to eliminate most of the uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), generators and other power-management equipment.

Maintenance on the fuel cells is also expensive, however, which has so far helped keep fuel cells from topping the equipment list of datacenter managers looking for the most cost-efficient power-efficient hardware available, according to datacenter-construction and management consultant Scott Noteboom of LitBit, as quoted in Wired.

Image:Ebay, Inc.