eBay has turned on its ground breaking fuel cell powered data center in Utah, which is revolutionary because it uses the grid as backup power, instead relying on approximately 30 fuel cells and access to natural gas for its power. In speaking with eBay over the last year, the company indicated that there were multiple advantages to the new design, including less outage risk, cleaner power, and structural improvements in the data center itself.
Interestingly, the initial plan to source biogas for the data center didn’t work out. GigaOM’s Katie Fehrenbacher writes:
eBay was originally hoping to use biogas — gas from organic waste — which is recycled and which is also carbon emissions free — but Nelson explained that sourcing biogas (from water waste treatment plants, landfills or animal farms) in the state was just too difficult (read what you need to know about data centers and biogas). Instead of biogas, eBay is using natural gas to power the fuel cells and is offsetting the associated carbon emissions with the waste heat recovery project, which will operate around 20 miles from the data center.
Biogas holds promise but access to it remains difficult. The portfolio of renewable energy powered data centers that Viestas Energy and Environmental Design Systems has planned will use waste-to-energy technology though the group has been careful to lock up 30 year agreements with the city of Glendale, AZ, where it’ll break ground on its first data center. The agreement guarantees 180,000 tons of municipal waste per year.
Figuring out a way to capture energy from waste remains an alluring possibility, but the key remains long term access.