Apple plans USA’s largest private fuel cell energy project in North Carolina

“North Carolina will be home to the nation’s largest private fuel cell energy project, a nonpolluting, silent power plant that will generate electricity from hydrogen,” The News & Observer reports.

“Apple (yes, that Apple) filed its plans with the N.C. Utilities Commission on Thursday to build the 4.8-megawatt project in Maiden, about 40 miles northwest of Charlotte. That’s where Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple has built a data center to support the company’s iCloud online data storage system and its SIRI voice-recognition software,” The News & Observer reports. “The fuel cell project, the nation’s largest such project not built by an electric utility company, will be developed this year. It will be located on the same data complex that will host a planned 20-megawatt solar farm — the biggest ever proposed in this state.”

The News & Observer reports, “But it’s the fuel cell project that’s generating buzz, eclipsing anything ever dreamed of in California, the nation’s epicenter for fuel cell projects. ‘That’s a huge vote of confidence in fuel cells,’ said James Warner, policy director of the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association in Washington. Fuel cells generate electricity through an electro-chemical process and are compared to batteries that give out power as long as they have a source of hydrogen.”

“The feds offer a 30 percent tax credit, but no incentive is available for fuel cells in North Carolina, making Apple’s project all the more intriguing. Apple is also developing miniature fuel cells to power laptop computers,” The News & Observer reports.According to a recent report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, fuel cells are among the world’s most expensive forms of electricity, costing $6.7 million per megawatt, which would put Apple’s project in the $30 million range. According to information on the company’s website, the fuel cell facility could be in operation toward the end of the year. Beyond that information, Apple officials would not comment on the project. Charlotte-based Duke Energy, which is likely to buy the electricity output from Apple, referred all questions to Apple.”

Read more in the full article here.

Related articles:
How Apple took the lead on the environment – February 22, 2012
Apple patent application reveals next-gen fuel cell powered Macs and iOS devices – December 22, 2011
Apple’s Mothership campus solar roof will be among biggest in U.S. – December 7, 2011
Apple working with US company, Leaf Solar Power, on North Carolina solar farm – November 8, 2011
Apple patent app details highly-advanced hydrogen fuel cells to power portable devices – October 20, 2011
Apple building huge solar farm around its billion-dollar North Carolina data center – October 26, 2011

77 Comments

  1. Already this project has been panned as completely useless and merely just a show of “greening” by Apple. It’s been said that either the trees should have been left or Apple should have built a nuclear power plant on that property to make this energy saving worthwhile. There is no way that Apple can win this one and it might have been better off not to have Apple even build a data center in Maiden, N.C.

    Apple should have built the data center at the base of Niagara Falls where it would have had unlimited amounts of hydroelectric power and flowing water to run and cool the data center. Apple is said to be hugely contributing to global warming by building a data center and nobody will be happy about it. Apple is always making these highly unpopular choices to attract the ire of the Apple-hating news media. If the global sea level starts to rise in the next decade, you can blame Apple’s data center for that.

    /s

    1. It’s very sad that something as beneficial to the human race as alternative energy sources has become a political issue. I’m sure the critics won’t be happy with any alternative to oil and gas until it is certified 100% free energy with no drawbacks. And until they get the magical perpetual motion machines, they attack any instance of someone, somewhere trying to make the world a cleaner, better place.

      1. I actually had to spend 5 minutes convincing someone last month that there is no such thing as a perpetual motion machine. They were thoroughly confused. 😯

        What’s ‘political’ about freeing ourselves from the fossil fuel teat is that those people who own and invest in the fossil fuel teat don’t want us wandering away to alternative sources of energy. It doesn’t matter whether the alternatives are ‘green’, whatever that means this week. They just want our money.

        That then becomes political when the fossil fuel teat owners and investors buy politicians with massive contributions then pull their strings to come up with such lunacy as oil company subsidies, royalty free oil drilling leases, ad nauseam. IOW: It’s the same old Corporate Oligarchy Overlord screwing over of customers and country. The political party involved turns out to be irrelevant.

        1. If you were had a major stake in an energy company like Exxon-Mobile or Shell, would you want your billions of barrels of proven crude reserves still remaining in the ground to be devalued by the growth of alternative energy sources? No, you would want to pump nearly every last drop at the highest sustainable price to maximize profits. And that is why big oil suppresses competition through political and economic means.

          Every time in history that alternative energy has started to gain momentum, oil prices have dropped significantly just long enough to curb alternative energy efforts. This is a classic example of why the private sector and capitalism do not always act in the best, long term interests of society. Capitalism has many merits, but it has no soul at its heart. Just as with any other human construct, it requires checks and balances to curb its excesses fueled by greed and hunger for power.

          1. It’s not quite as evil as you think King Hell. Once someone makes one of these alternatives really work better than oil everyone would be on board. But not until then you Lemming!!!!!

          2. Here you have nailed it KingMel. Dynamic systems (markets) have equilibrium states but can also diverge to extremes (monopolies, oligarchies, duopolies etc). That is why you have anti-trust laws and have used them several times in the past. Markets need boundaries and rules of engagement to keep them dynamic, and “free” markets do not include special subsidies and tax breaks for dominant interests. Big energy has long rode rough shot over your government and other businesses and ensured that Froid’s “really working” alternatives never see the light of day. The Dr.

          3. I agree that base human behavior, including stupidity and greed, corrupt ideal capitalism consistently and constantly. Psychopathic behavior will result in abuse within any human system. Capitalism with mutual respect all around is the ideal. Breaking that system of respect breaks the system. Psychopathic behavior results in gaming rewards while ruining the game. Those of us with sound minds must recognize the sick players within the game and expel them. The game’s rules must be reasserted.

            Keep in mind that business, commerce, finance, etc. are all game constructs created by humans on top of the basic biological behavior of SHARING. Keeping track of the source behavior helps throw the gaming aside in order for us to keep track of reality, what is really important and what is ultimately rubbish.

            Psychopaths have varying degrees of disconnect from what is real versus what is imaginary. They can take what is merely a game system as the entirety of their being, turning them into meaningless, lost souls and people, wrecking everything in their path for the pursuit of what is actually nothing-at-all.

            Sanity must be actively maintained. It is part of the vigilance required to maintain our freedom, our gift of choice.

        2. Wow Dereck, you are so smart!

          What would we all possibly do with out YOU??

          Thank goodness God invented you to save us all.

          You have all the answers.

          And a freakishly cool avitar.

          Neat!

          1. Another day, another anonymous coward faked ID from my own personal stalker. I think I’m supposed to be flattered by your attention. I’m not. But I do enjoy pestering you back, ripping off the mask, pointing out that you can do better if you wake up to your own sickness.

            Then again, zzzzzzz

    1. Apple doesn’t own Foxconn and they have many vendors/supplies they use to manufacture their parts. Foxconn is only the big barn where all the pieces are put together.

  2. The use of fuel cells still results in the release of carbon dioxide, which is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

    Fuel cells have their places, but the proponents of the technology have suckered lawmakers and bureaucrats into forking over hundreds of millions of dollars of grants on the false promise they don’t pollute.

    What everyone must understand is that virtually all fuel cells rely ultimately on hydrogen as a fuel. Depending on the type of fuel cell and the surrounding equipment, that hydrogen can either be bottled hydrogen or it can be a hydrocarbon fuel that is “reformed” onsite to convert it into a hydrogen stream.

    What many people don’t know is that virtually all commercial hydrogen is produced at large commercial plants that “reform” (break down and react) natural gas so as to liberate its hydrogen, which is compressed and distributed in red welding tank-like cylinders. In this process—though the pure hydrogen-fueled car or building won’t release any pollution at all—still results in the release of carbon dioxide; it’s just that the carbon dioxide is released at a central location (a number of cities throughout the U.S.).

    In still other types of fuel cells, they can either take natural gas directly as a fuel stock or they can be fed by a miniature reformation plant accompanying the fuel cell. One of these two types (probably the former one) is are almost certainly what Apple is buying. And they certainly do release carbon dioxide, which is a “pollutant” the EPA is now cracking down on at coal-fired commercial generating plants.

    Only a moron would actually power a 24/7 fuel cell off of bottled hydrogen (where huge amounts of carbon dioxide are released in central locations), because the cost of compressing and distributing the hydrogen cylinders makes for profoundly expensive energy. In a 2006 cost analysis I made (I was a fuel cell R&D scientists and have over a half-dozen patents in the technology), an amount of energy latent in 99 cents-worth of propane (and 74¢ with gasoline) would cost between $17 and $58 with compressed bottled hydrogen.

    And to dispel a common misperception, yes, water is two-thirds hydrogen by volume. But it is not a fuel source. Water is an exhaust byproduct—a lower energy state. To electrolyze it back into hydrogen requires more electricity than you get back out of the deal. And that electricity has to come from a true energy source such as hydro or nuclear or something else.

    Apple is doing this fuel cell thing in part because they will be independent of the grid, which is still only 99.X percent reliable and so they won’t be so reliant upon genset backup power.

    And the other reason Apple is doing this is because it sounds cool and makes liberals bunny-hugging earth-muffins with no understanding of science and simple economics feel smug and happy about the themselves and the world.

    1. So let me get this straight. According to you, hydrogen goes into the fuel cell, where it reacts with oxygen to produce electricity, then expels carbon dioxide, is that right? Where does the carbon come from? OIC, it came from the plant that produced the hydrogen.

      Why wouldn’t Apple use their acres and acres of solar energy to produce the hydrogen through electrolysis of water? Water is H2O so that would cut out the carbon from the energy cycle and all you would be left to complain about would the the CO2 released during the manufacturing process.

      1. @montex

        Quoting you: “Why wouldn’t Apple use their acres and acres of solar energy to produce the hydrogen through electrolysis of water?”

        It comes down to capital cost per watt of generating capacity.

        The value everyone strives for is under $1 per watt. Think in terms of a generator for your house. Scaling from commercial generating plants to something you might buy as a backup generator, a 5 kW backup genset would cost you $5000. (Real home backup gensets are cheaper but they aren’t designed to work for decades 24/7).

        Photovoltaic (PV or “solar cells”) costs about $10 per watt after you throw in all the bells & whistles necessary to make it practical, such as batteries to power you in the evening).

        And even then, you’d never use PV electricity to electrolyze water and then use the hydrogen from that to generate electricity. Electrolysis is about 50% efficient and the fuel cells are about 50% efficient. It would be far better to just use the PV electricity directly. Right?

        1. I don’t see why you keep quoting today’s market prices when that information will be out of date in a month or two. Besides, the whole point of building the fuel cells is to have a reliable source of electricity when the sun isn’t shining.

        2. it seems pretty obvious that the fuel cell project is nothing more than a big-ass battery for the solar panels. not too complicated. yeah, it costs a lot to do this stuff, which is why rich companies like apple should be congratulated for doing things to reduce pollution (not the CO2 bullshit) and reduce reliance on foreign sources. the government, however, should not be spending 10$ per watt until it can manage it’s books like apple (which will never happen, particularly if people keep voting for democrats). i think i’m going to become a libertarian, they seem the least nuts nowadays.

          1. it seems pretty obvious that the fuel cell project is nothing more than a big-ass battery for the solar panels

            *DING*DING*DING* Extra bonus points!

            No CO2 emissions involved!
            See my technical rant down below for details.

  3. @GregL

    Nice rant. Did you copy and past from a science textbook. Where is it written that Apple is using Hydrogen as the input fuel. Fuel cells can also use natural gas or even methanol. Using natural gas would be best because methane is 20x MORE potent than carbon dioxide therefore converting methane to carbon dioxide would be …. a GOOD thing.

    If Apple was smart and if they really wanted to be green, they would built a syngas plant beside their fuel cell plant. In that way they could take any carbon-based garbage (which is why you want to build one near a city) and when burnt at high temperature and pressure, you produce syngas, a mix of methane, hydrogen gas and carbon mono and dioxides. Therefore you create most of your own fuel for the fuel cell.

    In fact, I suspect many cities of the future will be taking this same path of creating syngas from garbage. I would bet on it even though I am a liberal bunny-hugging earth-muffin with no understanding of science and simple economics (assuming of course you disregard my doctorate in microbial genetics).

    1. From the article

      “The facility will consist of 24 fuel cell modules. It will extract hydrogen from natural gas supplied by Piedmont Natural Gas. But it’s not clear how much gas will be required.

      To qualify as a renewable facility, Apple or Bloom will arrange to produce landfill methane gas or some other biogas to offset its natural gas use. The biogas supplier has not been named, but that information will have to be disclosed to win approval from the N.C. Utilities Commission.”

      1. @TowerTone

        I seriously doubt any landfill could possibly produce enough natural gas to power that data center. I’ve seen gas flares at landfills to burn off offgassing natural gas; the flames are pretty small.

        1. I took it to mean they would offset, meaning they would produce from several sites.

          In all honesty, I like what Apple is doing here, but offsets are BS in my opinion, as is the concern for carbon dioxide.

          But what do I know? I have less education the you and Buster never had….(?)

          1. I see. Thanks.

            Collecting natural gas from many sites would help. For one thing, (about the only thing Buster wrote that is actually germane to any of this—but that is only by accident), is that methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. So collecting what they can of methane at landfills and using it in a fuel cell is still better for the environment—even after one factors in the fact that carbon dioxide is released in the process.

            But the energy produced from the degrading biomass will be proportionally very small to the new natural gas that must be pumped from the ground (and the attendant CO2 released in the process).

            All I was trying to do was clarify a major misconception about fuel cells: that they don’t release pollutants. That’s not true when you look at the total industrial cycle and factor in where fuel cells ultimately get their hydrogen.

            Even methanol (something Buster also wrote of) comes from natural gas so the carbon dioxide released from methanol-powered fuel cells (or hydrogen fuel cells in combination with methanol reformers) still results in the release of carbon dioxide where the carbon is ancient carbon that was sequestered millions of years ago.

            The long-term solution to truly pollution-free, safe energy production, in my opinion, is one of the inherently safe nuclear reactor designs. There are only a few that are inherently safe (no redundant auxiliary systems nor human intervention are required), but one such technology is the liquid fluoride thorium reactor (Wikipedia article here).

            1. It is not logical to me that a man who holds patents on fuel cell technology would advocate nuclear energy instead. Do you not want to make money on your inventions? Or… are you making it all up?

    2. @Buster,

      As I wrote above, I have more than a half dozen patents in fuel cells, so I forgot far more about fuel cells than you will ever possibly know.

      I didn’t write that Apple was using hydrogen as a fuel source. I wrote that in all probability, they were using natural gas as the feedstock, which results in the release of carbon dioxide, which is a greenhouse gas.

      None of the above has anything to do with the purposeful release of natural gas (methane), which is also a greenhouse gas.

      You simply don’t know what you are talking about and I won’t engage you further because it is a colossal waste trying to debate with stupid people.

      1. If you’re so smart, why don’t you see the obvious link between Apple’s solar farm and their proposed fuel cell battery? It doesn’t take a genius that it would be cheaper for Apple to produce it’s own hydrogen so it can be stored for use in fuel cells. But I suspect that you have an agenda to put down Apple for even trying something even slightly less than a perfect solution to all the world’s energy problems.

      2. I don’t understand why you’re bragging about holding fuel cell patents, then neglect mentioning any of them. Seems like an expert would not be so shy about sharing his accomplishments. Or… you could be making it all up in the hope that none of us will question your claims.

        1. @montex

          I have 15 patents and over half are in fuel cells. I don’t care to provide a link to a USPTO search because that provides a link to the inventor’s full name and city he or she resides in.

          Just because one has patents doesn’t mean one profits directly from them. Most patents are in the name of engineers and scientists who “assign” their rights to the companies they work for. It’s the companies that typically profit; it is seldom the loan inventor who self-funds a patent and goes on to make riches from it.

          As I first wrote in my first post, fuel cells have their places where they make sense. And with better micro-reformers, they’ll make even more sense.

          As for diss’ing the technology I worked on, just because I worked on them doesn’t mean that I have to be fan-boy who acts like a one-man band and spouts about how they are going to “change the world” (they won’t) and “generate no polution” (they do).

          1. My argument still holds. If you are denouncing the use of fuel cells, then you won’t make any money from your patents. It doesn’t make sense.

            But at least you’re a fast typer.

      3. Really intelligent people never put down their debate opponents with insults. If you were the scientist/engineer you claim to be then you would not be so quick to declare yourself smarter than everyone else. That sort of hubris always gets you in to trouble or makes you look foolish.

        By now I think I can see through your lame debating tactics that really are better reserved for Fox. At least they have pretty pictures.

        1. @montex

          You assume and imagine far too much.

          Allegation: “put down Apple for even trying something even slightly less than a perfect solution”

          Answer: I own six Apple devices and love their equipment. Apple does do some things just because they are PC and green; not purely because it makes immediate and direct economic sense. This is not a new phenomenon and it shouldn’t surprise you that Apple does so too.

          Allegation: “If you were the scientist/engineer you claim to be then you would not be so quick to declare yourself smarter than everyone else. ”

          Answer: I didn’t say I was smarter than everyone else. I wrote that Buster, who began his response with “nice rant,” was stupid, which I think he clearly is.

          Now I’m done with you too because you are behaving too much like Buster. Bye.

          1. You did it again! You call one guy stupid, then you backhand me in the next sentence. You don’t act like the person you claim to be. I live in Seattle and I know scientists and engineers. They don’t act like you. You talk a good game but your attitude tells me something completely different.

        2. Fine. ” rel=”nofollow”>Here’s your “pretty picture.” It underlies why, after you start spouting about how wrote things I did not write and am out to get Apple, I’m off to do better things this afternoon. Later.

        3. “Really intelligent people never put down their debate opponents with insults.”

          “By now I think I can see through your lame debating tactics that really are better reserved for Fox.”

          You are nothing if not consistent, montex.

            1. I think Romney will do just fine.

              Of course, if Mitt is going to raise the bar, he may have to dig down in the dirt to find it since the media lowered it so much for our current Commander-in-Chief…

  4. It’s April Fool’s day, fools.

    But if you’re serious about this, the separated hydrogen must come from somewhere. Anti-matter is highly efficient, how about that? Guess what—just like the electricity in “clean” electric cars, the anti-matter, the hydrogen, or the electricity must be generated somehow. And guess how that’s done?

      1. So, instead of using the nuclear electricity directly, one electrolyzes water with it (50% efficient) and then uses that in a fuel cell (also 50% efficient). To what end? To use four times as much electricity to make some electricity?

      2. Or do you mean that, unlike Apple and stationary electricity (the subject of this article), you mean for transportation? If so, the trouble with hydrogen and fuel cells in transportation are far too many to shake a stick at and are far beyond the scope of this discussion thread. Not the least of them is hydrogen isn’t odorized with mercaptan so you can’t smell it propane or natural gas. You can have an explosive atmosphere in a building like a garage and never know it. There are technical means to address that but it is more complex than you are going to see homeowners maintaining. Companies like Ballard (in BC Canada) got tens of millions of dollar from the Canadian government by spewing false promises about the future of fuel cells in automobiles. You won’t see fuel cells in anything but technology demos in the next 20 years, if ever.

    1. Hmm, like the Appollo missions which got to the moon on schedule, like Social Security which has never failed to provide a check in its history, like Medicare which delivers health care at a lower cost than private insurance and who’s costs are rising more slowly than private insurance costs, or Hoover damn which is an amazing feat of engineering or NASA in general which has now sent robotic probes to every planet in the solar system.

      Before you attack my country you’d better check your facts. Your preconceived notions don’t hold water.

      1. Ditto heads just repeat what’s propagandized to them.

        The ‘gummint’ sucks and some things and is great at others. The same goes with private enterprise. It takes effort to put both to their best use. It’s brainless to hate one over the other when both are important, if both are run well.

        Is the ‘gummint’ run well these days? Hell no!

        Is private enterprise run well these days? Hell no!

        But they could be!

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