Bloom Energy reveals new ‘Bloom Box’ fuel cell technology
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Silicon Valley company Bloom Energy revealed its heavily hyped and closely guarded solid oxide fuel cell on Wednesday, heralding the technology as a likely clean-tech game-changer.
Years in the making, the Bloom Energy Server can generate electricity using air and a wide range of renewable or traditional fuels through an electro-chemical process, rather than combustion.
Even more than solar and wind power – which Sunnyvale-based Bloom said can be intermittent – the new fuel cell could revolutionize fuel sources by offering clean, affordable and reliable energy, the company said. The technology can run all day, and customers can earn back the $700,000 to $800,000 cost within five years through utility bill savings.
Several major companies, including FedEx, Google, Staples and Wal-Mart, have already begun testing the technology. The trial runs have so far produced more than 11 million kilowatt-hours of energy while cutting 14 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, Bloom said.
At Coca-Cola’s Odwalla plant in Dinuba, Calif., a 500-kilowatt fuel cell installation is expected to use biogas to supply 30% of the facility’s power needs while reducing its carbon footprint by 35%.
Last year, EBay set up a 500-kilowatt system powered by biogas outside its San Jose headquarters, taking 15% of the campus’ energy needs off the grid and generating 2 million kilowatt-hours of electricity in its first six months. The fuel cells, which EBay called ‘skinny batteries,’ were officially introduced at the company’s site Wednesday in the company of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Former NASA scientist and Bloom Chief Executive K.R. Sridhar described the technology in a statement as potentially having “the same kind of impact on energy that the mobile phone had on communications.”
Fuel cell technology has been researched for decades, and was typically associated with hydrogen as the main fuel source. But Bloom’s flat ceramic squares, the size of a Polaroid photo and made with baked beach sand, are supposed to be more versatile, the company said.
Each server represents a 40% to 100% carbon footprint reduction, depending on the type of fuel used through the thousands of fuel cells. Even with fossil fuels, the electricity produced will be 67% cleaner than the power produced from a coal-fired plant, according to Bloom.
About 100 average U.S. homes or a small office building can be powered using one 100-kilowatt unit the size of a large refrigerator or an SUV.
Bloom was founded in 2001 after Sridhar and his team conducted research for the NASA Mars space program to use solar energy and water to produce air and fuel. The company raised $400 million from investors, including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Morgan Stanley.
The product was shrouded in secrecy in the years leading up to its unveiling.
-- Tiffany Hsu
Photo (top): Bloom Chief Executive K.R. Sridhar. Credit: Jonathan Sprague / Redux
Photo (middle): Bloom Energy testing facility in Mountain View. Credit: Bloom Energy
Photo (bottom): Gov. Schwarzenegger greets Sridhar at the Bloom Energy Server launch. Credit: Jakub Mosur, Bloom Energy