What is a Bloom Energy Server? How does it work?

bloom energy bloom box fuel cell power generation

Bloom Energy Servers Could Change the World

Today, Bloom Energy launched their Energy Server product and went public with a new website containing much greater detail about the company and their products.  You can read previous posts on the Bloom Box aka Energy Server here.  In this post, I will hit the important points on what the Energy Server is and how it works.

What is the Bloom Energy Server?

The Bloom Energy Server is a Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC)  Solid oxide fuel cells use a solid, ceramic electrolyte instead of a liquid as in batteries and other types of fuel cells. In the case of the Bloom Energy server, the anode and cathode are "inks" that are coated on the surfaces of the ceramic plate.

This construction methodology has several advantages:

  1. SOFC technology allows for a more diverse selection of fuel types.
  2. This doesn't require the use of exotic metals for a catalyst such as platinum or palladium
  3. The SOFC is usually much more efficient at converting fuel into energy than other fuel cell technology

The only drawback to SOFC technology is the extreme temperatures required to generate the reaction. (+/-800*C according to Bloom)  Bloom Energy has made several breakthroughs they claim are now patented that improve the design of existing SOFC technology to allow them to bring a product to market at a reasonable cost and with significant energy efficiency.

How is Bloom different from existing SOFC technology?

  • It uses low cost materials.  The electrolyte is made from a "sand-like" substance baked into a wafer.  There are no expensive catalysts made from exotic metals such as platinum and palladium.
  • It is more efficient than existing technologies.   Since the Energy Server generates electricity at the point of consumption, it is much more efficient than a natural gas-fired power plant since a significant amount of the power is lost during transmission from the point of generation to the point of consumption.
  • It is reversible so it can be used for storage as well as for generating electricity. We found some old sources of information on Bloom that eluded to a reversible process and commented on this in our original post.  Bloom Energy has now confirmed this on their website.  We are looking forward to hearing more about how the Energy Server can be used for storage.  We are hoping that this will allow for interfacing with renewable power generation systems like solar photovoltaics and wind turbines.  Imagine a system that can generate extra power during sunny or windy days and store it in a Bloom Energy Server for a later time when the sun isn't out and there isn't any wind!
  • It is flexible on the types of fuel it uses to operate. The Energy Server uses gas either from fossil-based natural gas or renewable biogas such as reclaimed methane from landfills or other renewable sources.  Sridhar in his interview with 60 Minutes said that the "Bloom Box" aka "Energy Server" will work with solar too.  We are looking forward to hearing more on how this will work.

How much energy does it generate?

A single Energy Server provides 100kW of power night and day which should be able to provide energy for 100 homes or a small office building.  Additional servers can be added for more power.

How big is an Energy Server?

A single Energy server takes up about the equivalent of one parking space in a parking lot

How reliable is an Energy Server?

Energy Servers are built to be modular so that larger installations will have redundant servers.  This will allow for a system to be taken down for service while other units continue to operate.  If you have component fail in an Energy Server, the rest of the servers continue to run while the affected unit is offline.  As to individual server reliability, we look forward to hearing more information from the pilot customer sites.

What makes a Bloom Energy Server more efficient than the grid?

Electricity generated at the point of consumption.  Since the Energy server is located at or near the point of consumption, it will always make more efficient use of the fuel source.  Traditional centralized power plants generate power at a single location and then rely on long distance transmission lines to  distribute the power to the points of consumption.  The Bloom Energy Server places much smaller power generation units at or near the points of consumption providing a "distributed power generation grid" that increases energy efficiency and improves our national security by greatly reducing our vulnerability to power disruptions by accidental or premeditated actions.

What is Distributed Power Generation and why is this model used by the Energy Server a big deal to our National Security?

Centralized Power Plants expose the risk of taking out large portions of our power grid by disrupting generation at a single output location.  By distributing power generation through installing many small power systems close to the points of consumption, we greatly reduce the risk of disrupting the power grid at any significant scale.

Does the Energy Server use water and will this be an issue for dry regions?

The Bloom Energy Server uses 120 gallons of municipal water only for startup of the system. (it recycles the water used for creating steam as part of the reaction process)  The Energy Server uses air and gas as the primary fuel sources; not water.

As we get more information from Bloom Energy on their Products, we will update this post or add additional posts of information to the Mapawatt Blog.

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These two technologies truly are similar but none the less, this seems like a really great idea.
This technology is very similar to the "BlueGen" unit of Ceramic Fuel Cells in Australia.

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