These days you can’t go anywhere without seeing an iPhone, iPad, or MacBook. While there aren’t a lot of ceramics involved in your average iDevice, there is a certain aspect of them that couldn’t exist without technical ceramics.
That aspect comes from another of Apple’s huge physical presences: Maiden, North Carolina. That’s where the so-called iDataCenter is located.
The iDataCenter handles the network load the company faces with its iTunes Store and iCloud services. Apple’s network needs are large, so its data center is, too. The North Carolina data center is over 500,000 square feet and cost $1 billion (with a “b”) to build.
Apple recently announced that it will use biogas generated by landfills to to power its enormous data center. Converting the biogas into usable energy will be Bloom Energy Servers, the so-called Bloom Boxes.
The Apple data center is the largest such installation Bloom is powering. Some of its other clients include eBay, Coca-Cola, Walmart, Google, Bank of America, and several sports arenas.
Bloom Energy Servers are basically fuel cells. By combining heat, fuel, and air, they generate electricity, which is then stored in a battery. One thing that separates the Bloom Energy Servers from other fuel cells is that some of its parts that would normally be made from toxic materials are actually made from an ink coating. That is, the anode and cathode portions of the Energy Server are made from a mysterious, proprietary ink material. The electrolyte is made from a technical ceramic material.
Presently, a 100 kilowatt-hour Bloom Box energy server contains thousands of solid oxide fuel cells. (Incidentally, each of those fuel cells has enough energy to power a light bulb.) They are pretty large units. Each one costs around $800,000. However, eBay has claimed it’s saved over $100,000 since adopting Bloom Box technology. They cost about $0.09 per kW hour versus $0.14 for typical power costs in California. Another benefit of the Bloom Box is that it boasts (in Google’s case) 98% uptime.
Apple’s 100% green energy data center is a pretty cool engineering feat, which could not happen, incidentally, without the hi-tech structural ceramics inside the Bloom Energy Servers. We’ll see if Apple’s adoption of the Bloom Box leads to more money spent on the technology, lowering the entry cost and bringing renewable energy to everyone.