The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has today published a patent application from Apple for a fuel cell system designed to allow a MacBook to operate without external power “for days or even weeks.” The patent was published shortly after a British company rumored to be working with Apple managed to fit a fuel cell battery into an iPhone 6, powering it for a week at a time. We first reported on that project last summer.
While the patent refers only to a ‘portable computing device,’ both the text and diagrams specifically reference MagSafe, giving a clear indication that a MacBook is the device in question (even if Apple may be moving away from the system) …
A report from the Daily Mail over the weekend claimed Apple is working with fuel cell company Intelligent Energy on a project that hopes to embed fuel cells in mobile devices “within a few years.” The Daily Mail doesn’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to accuracy, but the report claimed “senior sources in the US” have confirmed the partnership between the two companies.
The technology could be rolled out in devices such as laptops and iPads, allowing them to run without being charged for days or even weeks…Intelligent Energy revealed upon floating that it bought a bundle of patents in tandem with a major ‘international electronics company’…It has kept the identity of its partner a closely-guarded secret. But a source, who has knowledge of the partnership, confirmed that Apple is the big name working with the Loughborough-based firm.
The report noted that Intelligent Energy already has ties to Apple with former Apple Computers product specialist Joe O’Sullivan sitting on the company’s board and a new office in San Jose not far from Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino.
GigaOM today published a lengthy piece on the state of the solar and fuel cell farm installations that Apple has been building in North Carolina in recent years.
After a visit to the 100-acre, 20 megawatt (MW) solar farm, 10MW fuel cell farm, and another 20 MW solar panel farm situated close to Apple’s North Carolina iCloud data center, the report gives a pretty in-depth look into Apple’s operations, from how its fuel cells work right down to the sheep that eat the grass on its solar farm:
The solar farm across from the data center has over 50,000 panels on 100 acres, and it took about a year to build the entire thing….Each solar panel on Apple’s farms has a microcontroller on its back, and the panels are attached to long, large trackers (the steel poles in the picture). During the day, the computers automatically and gradually tilt the solar panels so that the face of the panels follow the sun throughout the day. The above picture was taken in the late morning, so by the end of the day, the panels will have completely rotated to face where I was standing. The trackers used are single-axis trackers, which basically means they are less complex and less expensive than more precise dual-axis trackers.
You can see in the above picture that the grass is neatly maintained. Apple manages the grass under the panels in a variety of ways, but one of those is a little more unusual. Apple works with a company that ropes in sheep that eat the grass on a portion of the solar farm; when the sheep finish grazing on one spot, they’re moved to the next.
The site decided to take a look into Apple’s decision to take renewable energy into its own hands just as North Carolina utility Duke Energy is requesting that the state allow it to sell clean energy to large corporate customers. Google is one of the large companies interested in purchasing clean energy from the utility, but the hundreds of millions Apple has invested into its own renewable energy efforts have so far made it self-sufficient. The report notes Apple’s two solar farms, along with its fuel cell farm, are producing more than it needs to power its data center by around 10MW:
Apple’s second 20 MW solar panel farm, which is about 15 miles away from the data center near the town of Conover, North Carolina, is also up and running. All told, the three facilities are creating 50 MW of power, which is about 10 MW more than what Apple’s data center uses. Because of state laws, the energy is being pumped into the power grid, and Apple then uses the energy it needs from the grid. But this setup also means Apple doesn’t need large batteries, or other forms of energy storage, to keep the power going when the sun goes down and its solar panels stop producing electricity.
The full feature on GigaOM is worth checking out if you’re interested in Apple’s renewable energy projects.
Aerial shots of Apple’s NC Data Center show off 100-acre solar array, Bloom energy cells and new tactical data center[Gallery]
Wired just published aerial shots of Apple’s data center in Maiden, N.C. from Monday, when construction crews were in the midst of laying foundation for a large structure in a northwest sylvan area, and it appears the company has just begun assembling its Bloom Energy fuel cells for biogas conversion.
According to Wired:
Our flyover captured some pretty clear images of the tactical data center, the massive solar array, and, of course, this new mystery building.
— i_bad_apple (@i_bad_apple) August 2, 2012
Check out some closeups of the parts below, and Wired for full gallery and details.
When Apple published its 2012 Facilities Report and Environmental Update, we got some new details on its plans for the now-under construction Maiden, N.C.-based iCloud data center. We reported that Apple planned to build the largest end user–owned onsite solar array in the United States across the road from the data center, as well as the largest non-utility fuel cell in the country at 5-megawatts. Today, Hickory Daily Record confirmed construction has officially begun.
…this week, work has started on the main campus of the data center. Driving by the campus, you can actually see the structure from the road. That’s because part of the berm — an earthen wall — has been demolished as part of some type of construction… What type of construction taking place on the main campus is not clear. No one is talking, or seems to know.
While it is unclear exactly what the new structure on the main campus will be, there are a few options swirling around. We know the 5-megawatt fuel cell will be next to the main data center, and the new building could house that installation. However, as HickoryDailyRecord pointed out, Maiden Town Manager Todd Herms said Apple originally planned to build two identical structures when it began construction of its Maiden data center. Apple only built one, so the new building could be the second building of the main data center.
The report noted Apple’s main contractor for data centers in area, Holder Construction, pulled zoning permits last week for a “tactical data center.” Another permit issued on Wednesday named 34 acres of the main data center campus. The current 500,000-square-foot building only occupies about 11.5 acres, so its possible the new building will be larger than the current data center. As we pointed out in our overhead shot of the data center pictured right (Thanks PilotJohn), the report also confirmed land is being cleared for the solar farm’s construction across the road.
Report: Bloom Energy to power Apple’s iCloud cell farm, the nation’s biggest non-utility fuel cell installation
Apple’s $1 billion data center in North Carolina powers iTunes and iCloud.
We told you in October about a 174-acre solar farm Apple reportedly started building to power the new Maiden, N.C., data center facility. Surrounding the facility will be the largest end user–owned onsite solar array in the United States. It will consist of a 100-acres and a 20-megawatt facility to provide approximately 42 million kWh of clean, renewable energy each year. The company’s 2012 Environmental Update from two weeks ago revealed plans for another five-megawatt non-utility fuel cell installation—the nation’s biggest—right next to the data center.
Supposedly running on biogas made from landfill waste and carbon-neutral, it will offer 40 million kWh of 24×7 baseload renewable energy every year. Now, GigaOM has it “from a couple sources” that Apple commissioned fuel cell maker Bloom Energy to supply the firm with fuel cells for the facility. Apparently, Apple already has “a few Bloom fuel cells running on its campus.”
Bloom’s fuel cells are large boxes that suck up oxygen on one side and fuel (natural gas or biogas) on the other to produce power. That means that with the fuel cells (and a solar array that will be built) Apple’s data center will have a source of cleaner distributed power that isn’t coming from the local utility via the grid. Bloom offers boxes capable of supplying 100 kW, which could translate into 50 Bloom Boxes being installed at Apple’s data center.
Each Bloom Box costs $700,000 to $800,000 and takes about as much room as a parking space. The Bloom Boxes are approximately 67 percent cleaner than a typical coal-fired power plant or the grid, and 12 were installed at Adobe’s San Jose campus. Bloom Energy also has deals with Bank of America (500 kW), Coca-Cola (500 kW), FedEx (500 kW), Staples (300 kW), Cox Enterprises, and Walmart (800 kW), in addition to various telcos and Silicon Valley giants, such as eBay (500 kW) and Google (400 kW). The firm is also in talks to build a 30 MW fuel cell farm consisting of 300 Bloom Boxes in Delaware.
CEO K.R. Sridhar founded the Sunnyvale, Calif.-headquartered fuel cell maker in 2002. Originally called “Ion America,” it was renamed to Bloom Energy in 2006. Now, what is interesting about Bloom Energy is that the company was funded by Apple’s old pal, venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins...
Interesting: it seems the first big deal component Apple may manufacture with its newly-licensed LiquidMetal alloys (beyond that SIM card remover shipped with iPhone before) isn’t the body or the antenna — it’s the battery!