Bloom Box - An unveiling of the Fuel Cell future

The inner workings of our energy future?

We first mentioned Bloom Energy in our post on residential fuel cells, but when we published that post earlier this month not too much was known about the stealthy company who thinks they can revolutionize how we get our energy.  That could all change tonight when CBS covers the company on 60 MINUTES ( 7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT).  (watch the 60 minute coverage of Bloom Energy here)

***Update 2/25/10 - Bloom Energy revealed what they've been up to yesterday when their web- site went live at 1 PM EST.  The device used to power commercial facilities is called a Bloom Energy Server.

Yesterday, Powell wrote a post titled "What is the Bloom Box?" where he postulated on how it may work:

Sridhar’s invention appears to provide a way to capture and store energy from any source: clean or fossil-based.  One of the biggest challenges for the renewable energy industry is storing power when the energy source isn’t available.  For wind power, it’s for when the wind stops blowing; for solar energy, it’s for when it’s cloudy or the Sun goes down at night.  The Bloom Box uses energy when it’s available to store it as hydrogen and oxygen.  When the energy source is no longer available, the Bloom Box reverses and starts generating electricity from the hydrogen and oxygen.

Before I read Powell's post yesterday I hadn't even thought about the Bloom Box taking electricity and storing it as hydrogen for later use.  I'll be curious to see if the Bloom Box only works in one direction (natural gas --> electricity) like I assumed in the residential fuel post or if it can actually use excess electricity from the grid or solar panels and store it as hydrogen (for later use).

Update - 2/21/10 - After watching the piece on 60 minutes I didn't see any mention of energy storage capabilities, so my assumptions is that this version of the Bloom Box is only going to generate power using a gas, which in most situations will be natural gas.  While the Bloom Box can also use renewable gas, like landfill gas or bio-gas, in most cases it will use natural gas.  There are a few down sides to this:

  1. Natural gas is still a fossil fuel which means there is only so much of it in the ground
  2. Natural gas is subject to price fluctuations just like oil is.  With a dwindling supply and increased world demand, these price fluctuations will only get more severe
  3. Natural gas isn't readily available everywhere (but of course no energy source is readily available everywhere)

And while the actual concept of using a fuel cell to power homes or businesses isn't new, a cost-effective, reliable, and market ready solution is new. 

If the Bloom Box uses natural gas to produce electricity in a fuel cell right on the spot (which it does), you eliminate many of the losses that currently exist in our electric power distribution system.  The down side is that you are still relying on a fossil fuel, albeit one that is cleaner than coal or oil and way more efficient since it is being used to create electricity at the point of use.

The Bloom Boxes currently only come in one size that can power commercial buildings or approximately 100 homes and Bloom Energy says they sell for around $700-$800,000.  According to CBS, John Donahoe, CEO of E-bay, confirms Bloom Boxes were installed at his corporate campus nine months ago.  The company says the boxes already saved them over $100,000 in electricity bills.

Update - 2/21/10 - The 60 minutes post also revealed that FedEx, WalMart, Staples and Google have Bloom Boxes.  Google was the first company to install one.  The 5 Bloom Boxes at Ebay's headquarters are truly fueled by a renewable source in the form of landfill gas and power 15 percent of the campus!  I was also interested in learning that Colin Powell is on their board of directors.

If you are looking forward to getting a piece of the Bloom Box action, the company plans  to roll out a smaller home version for about $3,000 a unit in 5-10 years.

I'll be watching 60 Minutes tonight to see if Bloom Energy appears to be as revolutionary as I hope.  Stay tuned.....

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The interview video with K.R. Sridhar is at:
ckmapawatt's picture
I don't think there are obstacles in the way. I personally know of several companies who are using this, but it does depend heavily on the incentives that are out there.
MY neighbors have one in their house. They must be a test house.
what i want to know is that the bloombox will or will not emit harmful gas into the atmosphere?
I would like to volunteer my home as test site will be willing to pay for the unit if it works. have the company come and install it. My reason is we pay 1500.00 a month electric bills in the winter Know I'm not lying I have the bills to prove it. we live on fixed income and can not afford one more winter in are home. I will shut off the electric before next winter. HELP
Rosanna, that is a crazy amount of money! Where do you live, what do you use to heat with, and how big is your house?
Where part of the country do they live at?
You're all missing a lot of the pieces. A home sized unit might need to put out about 1kw. That would be 24kwh per day, 720kwh per month. A modest by most standards for a home without electric heat or ac. We all need to use (consume) power at rates upto about 20kw, or more. Now you need a) a large battery bank and inverter to deal with this. Way more than the the $3,000 so many have been wary of. I live off the grid, (30 years now, that's small change). OR b) a grid tie system that uses the grid to buffer power use. This is an excellent idea... for a little while... Now we are each making all our own power, buffered by our neighbors on the grid... and the oh so generous power company to keep us all hooked together. oh, oh.. someone still needs to pay for maintenance etc. for all that infrastructure that we are no longer subsidizing with our ungainly monthly electric bills. There might be some options. Tie together 100 to 500(maybe more) or so houses, together, to smooth the load? maybe. There would still be lots of distribution lines, just not so much transmission line.
From the 60 Minutes interview, it seems that any fuel that can create the heat needed for the fuel cell process could be used. One can envision Bloomboxes that run on marsh gas, wood, coal, heating oil, natural gas, propane as possibilities. If you can generate sufficient heat from a windmill, concentrated mirror solar array, PV solar panels, wave action, geothermal device, presumably these could also be made to work. At the end of the day, we can assume that Bloomboxes are more energy efficient than a local steam-driven turbine or diesel electric generator. And while the fuel cell process itself may be carbon-neutral, the heating source required to get the process to work will likely be a locally provided fossil fuel. So will Bloomboxes replace diesel generators? They are obviously quieter. This is probably a fallback business which will sustain the company to the point where they can mass produce a small unit for the home at under $10K.
This tech is good but it only replaces the devil we know with a new one. Yes the US has lots and lots of gas but that until everyone is using it up.


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