Google eBay trial fuel cell system for servers

Online über-brands Google and Ebay have been trialling fuel cell technology from Bloom Energy to power their buildings and IT infrastructure.

The ‘Bloom Box’, described as a fuel cell system which produces ‘clean, reliable, and affordable energy from a wide range of fuels’, will be officially unveiled on 24 February at Ebay’s headquarters.

The system consists of a stack of ceramic disks coated with proprietary green and black ‘inks’, separated by low-cost metal alloy plates, which produce a chemical reaction. Hydrocarbons - which could include fossil or biofuels - are mixed with oxygen, and the cell is heated to 1,000 degrees Celsius to produce electricity.

Google, eBay, and other large companies that run large numbers of power-hungry servers in multiple data centres, are actively looking for ways to reduce their spiralling utility bills.

Google says that it has been using the technology at its campus for the last 18 months, while eBay claims that it has saved $100,000 (£65,000) in electricity costs over a nine-month period, after installing five of the Bloom Box fuel cell units.

Fuel cells are already manufactured widely by other companies, but doubts about their cost-efficiency remain. Each Bloom Box unit is estimated to cost between $7-800,000 (£453-518,000), for example, though Bloom Energy CEO K.R. Sridhar believes that outlay can be substantially reduced over time.

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