A portion of the new Apple headquarters will be powered by 4 MW worth of natural gas fuel cells when the building opens in 2017.
The new headquarters will have 1.23 million square feet of glass and occupy over 170 acres. Apple had previously announced that the building will have 16 MW of solar panel capacity. The fuel cells will work in conjunction with the solar panels to provide the building with electricity.
Fuel cells are devices that convert the stored chemical energy of its fuel directly to electrical energy without burning it. Sir William Robert Grove created a rudimentary fuel cell (calling it a “gas battery”) in 1839 that used hydrogen and sulphuric acid to generate electricity. Since fuel cells do not burn their fuel, they are typically more efficient than heat engines (eg. like the engine in your car).
Interest in fuel cells has dramatically increased in recent years due to reasons such as:
- Safety concerns with nuclear power plants
- Public pressure to use renewable technologies
The fuel cells that Apple will deploy uses methane (natural gas). In addition to natural gas, these fuel cells can also accept methane from sources such as hog farms or waste treatment plants.
One of the main advantages of using fuel cells to power your building is the fact that the power is produced where it is needed. When using electricity from the grid, up to 15% of the energy can be lost during transmission. Furthermore, the cells can produce electricity regardless of weather conditions.