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Bloom Energy to power data center with biogas

NTT America says it will install Bloom Energy fuel cells running on biogas at its California data center as part of NTT's efficient data center initiative.

NTT's data center will have biogas piped into Bloom Energy's fuel cells, which will convert the biogas to electricity.
NTT's data center will have biogas piped into Bloom Energy's fuel cells, which will convert the biogas to electricity. NTT America

NTT America soon will be able to claim a data center that runs on biogas.

The Japanese telecommunications company today said it will install five Bloom Energy fuel cells in its California data center that will use biogas as a fuel. It's a sign of the growing interest in cleaner fuel cell technology, which proponents say will increasingly be adapted for residential customers.

The fuel cells will be able to generate 500 kilowatts of power, which is enough for about 500 U.S. homes. At the data center, they will generate 4.2 million kilowatt-hours per year and reduce NTT America's carbon dioxide emissions by 1.6 million pounds.

Utilities in California offer the option of purchasing biogas, a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide captured from dairy farms. The Bloom Energy "servers" are designed to run on natural gas, which is mostly methane, but will also convert biogas to electricity.

The decision to go with Bloom Energy's fuel cells stems from NTT America's efforts to improve the efficiency of its computing operations. Its data center also uses other efficiency techniques, such as hot and cold aisles, and a sensor-based system to control the temperature.

Fuel cells are typically more expensive than pulling power directly from the grid, but the on-site, continuous power of fuel cells does bring reliability, which data centers need. Bloom Energy, which seemingly came out of nowhere with a splashy 60 Minutes segment last year, builds fuel cells geared at corporate customers looking for alternative power sources that lower their environmental footprint.

AT&T earlier this month said it intends to install Bloom Energy fuel cells to power its data centers in California, a state that has incentives to install fuel cells. The systems will generate 7.5 megawatts of power and be fueled by natural gas.