Bloom Box unveiling thin on details, heavy on hype

**Update: Video clip from press conference courtesy of CNET after the jump
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bloombox

Associated Press

K.R. Sridhar, co-founder and CEO of Bloom Energy, holds up a stack of fuel cells at a news conference today.

The Bloom Box or Bloom energy system, a much-hyped fuel cell that its inventors claim could replace power plants, was unveiled at a press conference this morning at eBay headquarters in San Jose and it had people buzzing through the day (#BloomEnergy was trending on Twitter early this afternoon).
Some people wondered if this was the new power savior of the future while others, like environmental site Grist, demanded to know how clean it was.
Yesterday, we mentioned the buzz over Bloom and said that we were hoping today’s press event would answer a couple of questions, namely how clean it was compared to a power plant and how the company plans to provide an affordable model for the residential market.
Those questions weren’t really answered. In fact, there weren’t many new details. But Bloom Energy CEO K.R. Sridhar did offer a couple of tidbits that suggest how his technology is cleaner and more affordable.
More details from the unveiling are after the jump.


Sridhar started by demonstrating how the fuel cell runs.
According to CNET, the core of the technology is sand, which Sridhar emphasized is plentiful and cheap. Sridhar told his audience that the sand is then baked in a process called “powder to power.”
Tom Woody of the New York Times’ went into a little more detail on the solid oxide fuel cell in a Green Inc. blog post. He explained that the sand is turned into a thin ceramic wafer. The wafers are then put through a machine that paints an anode on one side a cathode on the other.

Mr. Sridhar says the ink is made from common, low-cost materials and infused with some proprietary “magic dust.”
The ceramic wafer serves as an electrolyte, and as fuel passes over the cell and mixes with oxygen ions, the resulting reaction generates electricity. Each fuel cell generates 25 watts of electricity — a couple of years ago, it was 5 watts, said Mr. Sridhar.

The fuel cells are then stacked together to provide more power. Bloom’s largest Boxes, or energy servers, have been powering Silicon Valley companies such as eBay for months.
Mashable has good visuals of how the fuel cells work and how much power the cells can push out.
There was no mention of how long the fuel cells can run and how much it would cost to replace them. Although, CNET blogged that the systems can run all day and if a piece breaks down, it can easily be swapped out without shutting the whole thing down.
CNET reported that Sridhar highlighted the fuel cell’s ability to run on traditional fuel, natural gas, renewable, biomass gas, landfill gas and ethanol:

This fuel cell can take any of those fuels. And b/c of the unique chemistry, it can use that to produce electricity.
If you have multiple fuels, you can try to get the cheapest fuel into your box, and get the cheapest form of electricity based on market value.

Engadget blogged that fuels can be switched at will.
The press release on Bloom’s Web site says that when running on traditional gas, the Box is approximately 67 percent cleaner than a typical coal-fired power plant.
“When powered by a renewable fuel, they can be 100% cleaner,” the release says. (Here is where environmentalists demand to know how that can be.)
There were no other details in terms of emissions, but Bloom said that compared to the grid, the Box is twice as efficient.
The press release also says that a Bloom system can be paid back in 3 to 5 years on energy cost savings and that the price will be fixed for 10 years.
The price Sridhar quoted is the $700,000-$800,000 price tag for the large Bloom server. When asked, Sridhar said that Bloom customers will pay nine to 10 cents per kilowatt hour, CNET blogged. How much it will cost for residential purposes was not discussed.
So, we still need more details about the Bloom Box before we can say whether it’s going to change all of our lives.
But Bloom Energy has some major customers already. Along with Google, Staples, Walmart, FedEx and eBay, the company has also provided servers to Bank of America, Cox Enterprises and Coca-Cola.
Bloom said since its first install in July 2008, the energy servers have produced more than 11 million kWh. They note that that also includes a CO2 reduction of about 14 million pounds.

No Comments yet

  1. David

    This all sounds like mostly hype. I want to see the math on a couple of their claims:
    “When asked, Sridhar said that Bloom customers will pay nine to 10 cents per kilowatt hour …”
    Is that after installation or averaged over the life of the system, including upfront costs? Since it requires a fuel as an input, what fuel and at what cost was assumed?
    “They note that that also includes a CO2 reduction of about 14 million pounds.”
    Compared to what? Using what fuel? I’m guessing they’re using a coal burning power plant as their baseline. So, how does it compare to a regular, boring natural gas fired power plant.

    #1
  2. Bossbird

    David: I agree that it would be nice to see what data they are using to generate those claims. I saw the 60 Minutes piece on the Bloom Box, and I couldn’t decide if this was The Next Big Thing or just a bunch of hoo-ha.
    One thing is certain, though. The grid is utterly inefficient, with about 50% of the energy is lost in transmission. If we could scrap the grid in favor of on-site power production, we’d be way ahead of the game.
    And I won’t even get into the security issues associated with the grid. That’s another 60 Minutes piece worth watching if you haven’t seen it…

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  3. David

    A good post at Grist this morning that answered a lot of my questions.

    #3