Facing the prospect of relying on grid electricity that comes almost entirely from coal, eBay has decided to create its own power at a new Utah data center.

Wind? Solar? Nope and nope. The data center, which expands on an existing facility, will rely primarily on fuel cells from Bloom Energy.

Bloom Energy, fuel cells, eBay data center
image via Bloom Energy

EBay called this a “renewable energy” source, saying the fuel cells will use biogas from organic waste in the chemical processes that create electricity – but apparently the cells won’t use that biogas directly.

The New York Times reported the fuel cells will run on natural gas, with eBay paying a premium to fund the production of biogas elsewhere. This is a common practice since biogas from renewable organic waste often is not available at a particular site.

Even powered by natural gas the fuel cells will be far cleaner than Utah grid power. In Utah, according to 2011 state report [PDF], 82 percent of electricity is generated from coal-fired power plants. On its website, Bloom says its technology allows customers to “reduce their CO2 emissions by 40%-100% compared to the U.S. grid (depending on their fuel choice) and virtually eliminate all SOx, NOx, and other harmful smog forming particulate emissions.”

“We are embracing disruptive energy technology and designing it into our core data center energy architecture,” John Donahoe, president and CEO of eBay, said in a statement. “Running our data centers primarily on reliable, renewable energy, we intend to shape a future for commerce that is more environmentally sustainable at its core.”

Under pressure from the likes of Greenpeace, tech companies have been scrambling  to green the facilities they use for storing vast amounts of user data — and in the case of eBay, for processing millions and millions of online transactions. Apple just last month said its data center in North Carolina would be getting, among other green features, a 5-MW fuel cell setup. The company said it would be the “largest non-utility fuel cell installation operating in the U.S.” when it comes online late this year.

But now it looks like it won’t be the largest such installation for long.

image via eBay

At the new eBay facility, in South Jordan, 30 Bloom fuel cells will generate 6 megawatts (MW) of power, the company said. “Each of the 30 Bloom Energy servers will generate 1.75 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity annually, and will be installed a few hundred feet from the center itself, virtually eliminating traditional utility grid losses,” the company said.  The project is expected to be fully up and running by the middle of next year.

This isn’t eBay’ first foray into clean energy; it has a 650-kilowatt (kW) solar array and a 500-kW Bloom fuel cell installation at its San Jose headquarters, it said. It also has a 100-kW solar array at a Denver data center, and it recently installed a 665 kW-solar power system on an existing, LEED-certified Utah data center (pictured above).


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