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Bloom Energy Eyes Up Data Centre Niche For Fuel Cells

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Fuel cell maker Bloom Energy is turning its attention to the data centre sector to help tackle emission reduction issues

Maverick fuel-cell maker Bloom Energy has turned its focus to data centres, after the appointment of Peter Gross, who joined the company last week as the vice president of Mission Critical Systems. Previously Gross was a co-founder and CEO of EYP Mission Critical Facilities, an engineering firm dedicated to the design and operation of data centres.

“Bloom Energy will now fill a critical need in the data centre industry,” said Gross. “By providing a reliable, clean and stable energy source that is immune to disruptions to the grid, Bloom will help its customers reduce their security risks considerably, while at the same time improving efficiency and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.”

Critical Need

Essentially, Bloom is aiming its fuel cells at data centre operators, and touting the fuel cell as a replacement both for backup power systems and even its grid power. It has already made some inroads into this sector.

Last July, for example, NTT America said it was using Bloom Energy Servers at a data centre in San Jose, California. AT&T  also said it was using Bloom Energy Servers (or Bloom Boxes) at 11 AT&T data centre sites in California.

The Bloom Energy Server is based on revolutionary solid-oxide, fuel cell technology that converts produces electricity through an electro-chemical reaction, without any combustion, at the world’s highest level of efficiency, said the company.

As a result, the electricity produced by a Bloom Energy Server is apparently 50 percent cleaner than that produced by the electrical grid, with no harmful sulphur dioxide or nitrogen oxide emissions.

Emission reduction is an increasingly important issue for data centre owners and operators, due to the arrival of emission taxes such as the CRC in the UK. Indeed, the CRC legislation has been responsible for a rise in the use of energy management policies at UK data centres.

Bloom said that, because its Bloom Energy Servers are located on-site with the customer, its systems are not vulnerable to disruptions to the power grid caused by human intervention or natural disasters, such as the disruptive snow storms that hit many parts of Europe in the past few winters.

Fuel Cell Future?

Fuel cell systems are considered to be a much cleaner and attractive option for the generation of electrical energy. The advantage is the reduction of fossil fuel use and thereby a dramtic cut in CO2 emissions. At the moment, the downside is cost, but this should come down as uptake increases.

Power is an ongoing issue for data centres. In January, Data Centre World warned that most data centres in the UK will not be cutting their energy use in 2012. In fact, three-quarters (76 percent) will be using more electricity, despite the pressure from rising energy costs and green taxes.

Outside the data centre world, it seems that CRC still remains a tricky issue for many businesses. A recent survey by Epicor Software found that 80 percent of companies do not monitor their carbon footprint regularly, and less than a quarter could accurately explain carbon accounting.