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Power Earth Hardware Apple IT

Apple's North Carolina Data Center Will Feature Biogas Generators 68

1sockchuck writes "Apple's North Carolina data center will tap landfills for biogas, which will then be converted into electricity using fuel cells from Bloom Energy. The 24 'Bloom boxes' will have a capacity of 4.8 megawatts of power, and along with a large solar array, will provide Apple with a significant on-site generation of sustainable energy. Microsoft is also developing biogas-powered data plants where modular data centers will be housed near water treatment plants and landfills. GigaOm has a useful primer on biogas in data centers, as well as video of the new higher capacity Bloom boxes that will support Apple's server farm."
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Apple's North Carolina Data Center Will Feature Biogas Generators

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  • I thought "biogas" referred to bovine flatulence.

    • by N Monkey ( 313423 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @04:12AM (#39854893)

      I thought "biogas" referred to bovine flatulence.

      A bit pedantic, but cows mostly belch gas rather than fart - so do make sure you connect the pipe to the right end.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        You peeked!
        Apples new data center features office chairs that look amazingly like a cross between an iMac and a toilet. Apple thinks different and it shows ,when they capture every bit of flattus. Not only that but each iCubicle will have a belch vent. Cattle were actually the inspiration and have been if you've noticed the iPhone/iPad factorys.
        Apple gives to their employees and expects them to give back. You realize they bar-b-q at lunch breaks, right? Mounds of baked beans, greasy burgers, bratwurst, Cole

      • Just put them in a dome. Let gravity do natural fracturing. Given a large enough dome and enough cows you could probably run near for ever.

        Difficulty: Clear dome so that grass grows.

    • by siddesu ( 698447 )
      This definition has now been reinvented and now magically includes flatulence from Apple employees.
  • "The 24 'Bloom boxes' will have a capacity of 4.8 megawatts of power"

    I wonder how long it will take before they'll be called "fart boxes", eventually?

    Or something to that effect.

  • Biogas generators, as in... cows?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      Biogas generators, as in... cows?

      Biogas generators, as in apple fanbois:

      Zombie Steve Jobs: I have come to you from the grave to give you but one command, oh followers, and it is this: fart into the tubes!

      It wouldn't surprise me all that much, since Apple fanbois constantly fart their indoctrinated nonsense on the intertubes.

  • by saccade.com ( 771661 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @03:42AM (#39854809) Homepage Journal
    Our company has several Bloom boxes. Natural gas in, electricity out. They're -very- noisy, and you can can see soot forming around exhaust vents on the top. Are they really fuel cells, or...gas turbine generators? Gas-fired boiler heats H2O to steam, pushes it through a turbine mechanical generator, H2O condenses. This would explain the noise and the soot.

    Anybody seen the insides of a Bloom box?

    • by jbengt ( 874751 )
      As I understand it, they use heat and catalysts? to crack methane into hydrogen and carbon monoxide? use the hydrogen to produce electricity, like any fuel cell, and burn the carbon monoxide to discharge carbon dioxide and heat. I may have the details wrong, though, they don't tend to publish technical information in these types of stories.
  • Al Gore connection? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by srussia ( 884021 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @03:56AM (#39854841)
    Gore is an Apple board member and a partner of Bloom Energy owner Kleiner Perkins.
  • How long will it take, until they don't get enough waste and will turn to that "green" alternative of turning maize into gas, which is even more effective than their current plans. That's at least what the greenies in Germany do. Who cares about feeding the world, if you can be green?

    • see how far feeding the world on corn gets you. most of it is indigestible cellulose, but if you let it decay on it's own, you'll get some useful stuff out of it.

      • by tp1024 ( 2409684 )

        Let's see how long it takes you to realize, that the maize is specific for biogas. You basically need maize for biogas to maximize gas-yielt. But that you plant any other food (e.g. wheat) on the same fields you plant your maize for biogas (or bio ethanol for that matter).

  • They might be really trying to use this for some power, but its more likely just for show. I'm sure at the first sign of trouble the jump to the utility or diesel generators. I don't understand why companies are dumping so much money into new and possibly unreliable tech for a data center they want 100% up time on. They would be better off, using low power lighting and better cooling tech, and other low power solutions. Think about how much extra equipment they have to buy and maintan, On top of the industr
    • if you want 100% uptime, surely you wouldn't want all your eggs in one basket.

      what's wrong with generating not-quite-totally-reliable power, selling back to the utility, and having it as a baseload backup if grid power fails?

      nothing wrong with diesel generators as backup, but something else is always good to have, especially if the fuel is coming from a source that's not being utilised at all.

    • by stomv ( 80392 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @05:46AM (#39855151) Homepage

      Dude -- think for a few more seconds.

      1. They are almost certainly connected to the grid. Just like residential solar cells, a building can be BOTH connected to the grid AND have on-site renewable generation.

      2. Apple is paying the industrial retail rate for electricity, not the cost the utility would pay. Sure, PV and biogas might not be purely economic for the utility in 2012, but they may well be for Apple because Apple's avoided cost is so much higher than the utility's.

      3. North Carolina has an RPS -- a Renewable Portfolio Standard. Most states do. The utilities are required to purchase enough certificates so that X% of their retail sales have accompanying certificates, each of which represents 1 MWh of renewably-produced electricity. Apple's equipment will generate these, and Apple will sell them on the market to the utilities, generating even more revenue.

      4. Low power lighting and better cooling tech are not mutually exclusive to renewable energy. You can bet that Apple is *also* employing technology which lowers their consumption of electricity for both lighting and cooling.

      Apple isn't getting rich on this stuff. They're not getting rich on the vending machines in the break rooms either. It doesn't mean that they're relying on them for critical business purposes, and it doesn't mean they're taking a loss on them. In fact, it's almost certainly the contrary -- this will in no way reduce their data center reliability, and it will result in slightly lower costs than just relying on grid electricity.

      • by zippo01 ( 688802 )
        3. North Carolina has an RPS -- a Renewable Portfolio Standard. Most states do. The utilities are required to purchase enough certificates so that X% of their retail sales have accompanying certificates, each of which represents 1 MWh of renewably-produced electricity. Apple's equipment will generate these, and Apple will sell them on the market to the utilities, generating even more revenue. Trust me this is not a profitable venture. You are missing the point. What I am saying is apple is doing this beca
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Sure, bio-gas, solar panels, it all sounds great. But, it's not like we are growing this stuff on trees. It would be interesting to know if someone were to determine the actual cost of mining the earth -which in a way we do for fossil fuels- for the rare-earth metals for solar cells, high-power magnets, and the like. It might seem like a good idea now but how long until we have mowed down all the mountains?

    • We actually are mowing down the mountains in nearby West Virginia for coal. The coal extraction technique is called "mountaintop removal". Google it -- it ain't pretty. Mining the material for PV or bloom boxes doesn't have anywhere near that kind of impact, in part because the material is part of the generator, not part of the fuel.

      This stuff is replacing the need for coal, and coal is what the mowing down of mountains is all about.

    • Sure, bio-gas, solar panels, it all sounds great. But, it's not like we are growing this stuff on trees.

      Funny you should mention it, but biogas can be generated from any source of biodegradable mass... so yes it grows on trees.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    North Carolina is best Carolina

    • by cosm ( 1072588 )

      North Carolina is best Carolina

      SC is like NK, and NC is like SK. Just sayin! Take a drive through SC and you'll see...

  • by mosb1000 ( 710161 ) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @05:04AM (#39855041)

    Even if these produce twice much power as the previous generation, as the article claims, that's still probably about $4.00/Watt. If it's 60% efficient, like he claims, that's equivalent to a combined cycle plant, which typically will cost about $0.50/Watt. Why would you pay 8 times more for this? Is there any benefit?

    • Could be to try and push the research forward. Things are expensive in the early days, funding helps make them cheaper. Could also be for appearances, a "Look how green we are," kind of thing. Appearances are valuable to advertising and so the money spent might be well worth it.

      However the real answer probably lies in the post of another user: Al Gore is a partner/owner of these companies, and he sits on the board of Apple. That would be human politics as fairly normal. A board member says "Hey we should us

    • Nobody with any sense would pay 8 times more for this for no possible benefit. Natural gas has never been cheaper. NC has a surplus of energy and remarkably low energy prices already, and sensible conservation measures, such as installing high efficiency air conditioners, are already lowering consumption (and prices) further still. If Apple shareholders had any sense, they would sue the company for pissing away their money on political grandstanding. It isn't even about carbon -- I'm sitting about 15 mi
      • by mbkennel ( 97636 )

        "5 million years ago the Earth was roughly 2 C warmer than it is today, CO_2 levels were in excess of what they are expected to go to by the end of the century in the worst case "anthropogenic" scenario"

        Hold on, stop.

        http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091008152242.htm [sciencedaily.com]

        "The last time carbon dioxide levels were apparently as high as they are today — and were sustained at those levels — global temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than they are today, the sea level wa

  • They'll be serving baked beans in their new private restaurant. [slashdot.org]
  • We already got that implemented. It peaks on days when we order curry ...
  • As if working in a data center wasn't already a shitty job, now companies looking to take advantage of biogas are going to locate them next to sewage treatment plants and landfills? Hooooo, wonderful!

    Maybe next month they'll figure out how to tap power from rotting paper and hog fat and we can get data centers backed up to paper mills and rendering plants.

  • A thunderdome will be installed to quickly solve technical disputes.

    Or an iThunderdome, if they invent it fast enough.

  • by mstrcat ( 517519 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @11:00AM (#39857347)

    First of all, enjoy a good chuckle at the term 'Biogas'. Most literature refers to it as 'Landfill gas' and the majority of landfill locations think of it as a waste product to be disposed of as cheaply as possible, mostly through flaring operations. The term 'Biogas' was invented by someone that that wanted to game California's renewable energy programs.

    As a fuel, it's marginal, having about 500 BTU per standard cubic foot of gas. Most sources are 10% nitrogen, 40% CO2, 45% methane and the balance oxygen, H2S, water, ethane, ect. The energy cost to clean the gas up to the point where something as high tech as a Bloom Box can use it can reach 60% of the energy of the entire gas stream, as water and CO2 removal are both energy expensive operations.

    Still, with all it's disadvantages, I hope Apple is able to make the system work reliably, if only because it's a hard engineering problem they are tackling. And it will be a good proof-of-practicality for the Bloom Boxes.

    • "Biogas" usually meant from sewage/manure processing until the landfill gas promoters appropriated the term. But putting such boxes at datacentres makes no sense: it wastes the heat they produce. After all, if there's one thing a datacentre doesn't need, it's more low-grade heat. Instead, they should put them someplace where the heat can be sold even in midsummer, and then connect to the datacentre via private wire (if the grid isn't reliable enough for them).
  • 3...
    Hey! You! Stop that! I didn't say you could start yet!

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