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eBay unveils data center that runs on fuel cells

Filthy backup diesel generators worry about job prospects

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Online bid bazaar eBay has plugged a much-hyped fuel cell technology into its new data center, as the company tries to increase the efficiency and reduce the environmental impact of its colossal bit barns.

The announcement of the new facility was made by eBay at a press event in Utah on Thursday. The company revealed that along with drawing its primary power from a fleet of Bloom Energy fuel cells, the data center will use incredibly dense server pods from HP and Dell, and has invested in renewable-tech company Ormat to build an off-site waste heat recovery facility.

Bloom Energy uncloaked in 2010 with promises of a hugely efficient fuel cell-powered future based on its solid oxide tech.

At the time, Google chief Larry Page said his company hoped to one day have "a whole data center running on this at some point – when they're ready".

Though Google is, as far as we can discern, not yet running an entire facility off of Bloom's fuel cells, eBay is, and believes this makes it the first bit barn in the world to use the tech. Google had not responded to questions at the time of writing.

So, what's the benefit? eBay reckons by using Bloom it can cut its CO2 emissions by some 49 per cent compared to its first-phase of the "Topaz" data center, of which the Bloom-powered bit barn is the "second phase" expansion. Use of the tech should increase availability and reliability of its infrastructure as well, eBay said.

Typical data centers run off the electricity grid via high-capacity substations that bring in power. If power cuts out, facilities typically use some kind of UPS or a giant flywheel to provide temporary power while everything cuts over to reliable but distinctly un-green diesel generators. One facility this hack toured used WW2-era submarine diesel generators because they were incredibly reliable.

With Bloom Energy's fuel cells, if the grid – in this case natural gas feeding the cells – cuts out, they'll run for a longer period of time before eBay needs to cut over to backup power, and this means it may weather grid outages without needing to fire up the sludge-burners.

In addition to eBay, Bloom Energy customers include Google, AT&T, Apple, NTT, and others. ®

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