Apple doubles size of Catawba County fuel cell project

Apple now plans to run 50 fuel cells at its data center in Maiden

bhenderson@charlotteobserver.comDecember 4, 2012 

Apple plans to double the size of its Catawba County fuel cell project, the nation’s largest such venture not run by an electric utility, to 10 megawatts.

Fifty fuel cells adjacent to its $1 billion data center in Maiden are expected to be operating by January, Apple said in papers filed with the N.C. Utilities Commission. They will be fueled by “directed biogas,” in which cleaned methane from a landfill is injected into a natural gas pipeline.

The Utilities Commission ruled in March that directed biogas is a renewable energy resource that can be used to meet North Carolina’s green-energy mandate. The ruling responded to a request by California-based Bloom Energy, which markets fuel cells called the Bloom Energy Box and will build and operate Apple’s system.

California-based Apple says the initial 4.8-megawatt phase in Maiden began start-up and testing in October. In November, it applied for an amended state permit to increase the project’s size. Ten megawatts, full capacity, is enough to power about 6,250 homes.

Apple has contracted for fuel with Houston-based Element Markets Renewable Energy LLC, but has not publicly identified the ultimate source of the landfill methane it will procure to run its Maiden project. Catawba County’s EcoComplex captures methane, but that gas is turned into electricity on site.

Apple intends to sell the electricity to Duke Energy, its revised application said. Installation costs were not publicly reported.

Fuel cells work much like batteries, turning fuel into electricity through electrochemical conversion instead of through combustion. A number of California businesses and municipalities use fuel cells fueled by biogas to produce electricity and heat that can be used to make steam.

Henderson: 704-358-5051 Twitter: @bhender

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