Bloom fuel cell: Individual power plant in a box

Start-up unveils Bloom Box, touts customers like Google, eBay, Wal-Mart

At a news conference attended by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a Silicon Valley start-up today took the wraps off a fuel cell designed to enable individual homes and businesses to generate their own power.

Bloom Energy Corp. showed off the Bloom Energy Server , which is being billed as a game changer for the clean energy industry. The solid oxide fuel cell is built to generate electricity with a mixture of oxygen and renewable or traditional fuels -- all without creating any emissions.

"Bloom Energy is dedicated to making clean, reliable energy affordable for everyone in the world," said K.R. Sridhar, principal co-founder and CEO of Bloom Energy. "We believe that we can have the same kind of impact on energy that the mobile phone had on communications. Just as cell phones circumvented landlines to proliferate telephony, Bloom Energy will enable the adoption of distributed power as a smarter, localized energy source."

Sridhar noted that 20 corporate big hitters, including FedEx, Wal-Mart, Staples, eBay and Google already are using Bloom Boxes. Today's news conference was held at eBay's San Jose headquarters.

Google spokeswoman Niki Fenwick said in an e-mail to Computerworld that the search giant has been using four Bloom Boxes at the company's Mountain View headquarters for the past 18 months.

"The boxes are a permanent purchase," Fenwick wrote today. "We may expand our use of the fuel cells in the future, but we don't have anything to announce at this time.... We're always on the lookout for opportunities to power our operations with clean and economic power and willing to try innovative new things, and we've been pleased with our Bloom Energy experience."

She added that the four Bloom Boxes make up a 400-kilowatt installation for Google. And over the last year and a half, the project has had 98% availability and delivered 3.8 million kilowatt hours of electricity.

While Fenwick declined to say what Google paid for the boxes, Bloom Energy said each commercial-sized box costs between $700,000 and $800,000.

eBay noted today that the Bloom Boxes it's using take 15% of the campus' energy needs off the grid completely. The company has been using five Bloom Boxes on its San Jose campus for the past nine months, according to a release from the company.

"eBay believes in the power of our business model to make a real difference in the world, and that includes how we embrace innovation to reduce our carbon footprint," eBay CEO John Donahoe said. "When Bloom came to us, it was an easy decision to become an early adopter of its cutting-edge new technology. As a result, we're meeting financial and environmental goals with the project, while fueling a more energy efficient global marketplace. That's good for us, our customers and the planet."

Sridhar said he's also hoping to see Bloom Boxes become a common fixture in people's backyards and basements before 2020. He estimated the cost of systems for individual homes at about $3,000.

"This is certainly interesting technology and, at least from what I've seen, is the first fuel cell that is deployable now and not just a scaled up lab experiment," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. "They cite a three-to-five-year payback on capital investment via energy cost savings, which is a great number. But without knowing the lifespan of the unit or maintenance costs, it really doesn't tell us the whole story."

Olds also noted that Bloom Energy is contending that its fuel cells have a 2-to-1 efficiency advantage over electric utilities.

"If that's true, then this could potentially be a big win for everyone," he said. "In fact, those electric utilities may be lining up to buy the first units off the production line. The capital cost alone, not to mention the environmental costs, associated with building massive power plants is massive. If utilities could use Bloom technology to add capacity cheaply and site it closer to their customers to cut transmission loss, then it's certainly something they will pursue."

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags Bloom BoxStaplesGoogleebaypower supplieswal-Martsilicon valleyArnold Schwarzenegger

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld (US)
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?