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Whatever Happened to Bloom Energy?

The world is in a never-ending pursuit of clean renewable energy sources. The debate over the carbon footprint, whether you believe in that or not is irrelevant. What is relevant in this world seems to be limited to reliable, clean, and affordable options. One revolutionary source of clean energy, which could help in this debate is Bloom Box, a Sunnyvale, California company with some NASA influence.

Bloom Box was founded by Chief Executive Officer, Dr. KR Sridhar, formerly the Director of the Space Technologies Laboratory, working on the Mars One Project researching technology to convert the Martian atmosphere to oxygen. Since that time, his studies have led him to even bigger discoveries devising a method of using Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Technology to produce clean energy here on Earth.

Fuel cell energy layers. Image courtesy of Bloom Energy

Dr. Sridhar and his team have proved that with their renewable energy system, a 4×4 inch diameter box can power a standard European home. By linking two of these boxes together, any standard home in the United States would be able to produce clean, renewable energy 24hours a day, seven days a week. Bloom produces energy by use of natural gas, the same gas used for household cooking needs. The natural gas is then pumped through the box and the Fuel Cell Technology has a system where on one side of the cell the natural gas is fed over the top of the cell and oxygen is pumped and feed on the bottom part of the cell. The combination of the natural gas and oxygen over one cell creates an electrochemical process to produce enough electricity to power one light bulb. One of the major advantages of this technology is since the box does not produce any form of combustion, the dangers of explosions or other disasters are virtually non-existent.

Dr. Sridhar doesn’t stop there, his company can connect countless boxes together creating what he calls a power farm, able to power an entire manufacturing company. Essentially, this technology promises to be efficient, safe, clean and far from new. It is currently being time tested in many areas. Several major companies like AT&T, Google, eBay, Wal-Mart, FedEx and Adobe, along with 68 other companies have already begun using this technology with successful returns on their investment. Even NASA has utilized fuel cell bank to power one of their sites.

Dr. KR Sridhar of Bloom Energy

Since these companies are already producing with such great results, why isn’t Bloom Energy everywhere and why isn’t it a household name yet? The company was featured on 60 Minutes, February 2010, building the hype for the much-anticipated 2013 IPO release. However, that never happened. Forbes reported that Bloom has since secretly filed an IPO status report but did not reveal the timeline for the release.

Bloom released a new updated version of the fuel cell called, the Energy Saver 5.0.  Bloom claims the new fuel cell is much more cost effective and produces almost double the power density. Perhaps the new 5.0 can make the fuel cell tech more profitable for residential application. However, it seems the commercial route is where the company is headed for the moment.

What about residential customers? When and how much will it cost the average American to own a bloom box? Unfortunately, according to the Bloom Energy website regarding residential use, that residential implementation is not quite ready for production. Oddly, they claim the current technology produces too much power. The question is, wouldn’t excess power be better? Selling surplus energy back to the power companies would not only help in paying for itself over a relatively short period of time but also potentially make a profit…in theory. The bigger puzzling question is how is it that this technology has not found its way to the small villages of the world, or the small towns in the US?

Bank of Bloom Energy cell units being used by FedEx. Image courtesy of Bloom Energy

For now, here is how the current pricing and power output stacks up:

  • One Fuel Cell alone can generate 25 Watts = One Light Bulb
  • One Small box with a stack of tiles: 1kW= One Home, (when ready for distribution) $3,000
  • Big Box Industrial 100kW= $700,000 to $800,000

Currently, mostly large corporations are capitalizing on this technology. John Donohoe, CEO of eBay proudly boasts that since the company has had the Bloom Energy system installed, eBay has saved over $100,000 in energy cost from the previous year as well as a three-year payoff plan.

eBay headquarters with Bloom Energy fuel cell units. Image courtesy of Bloom Energy

The Bloom Box appears to be just the beginning of the evolution of clean, renewable energy technology. As new innovative ways of creating clean energies continue to be explored meeting the demands of the world, and beyond, more obstacles will arise in the fight for monetary control. Unfortunately, the costs still outweigh the potential for cheap, accessible energy.

 

 

 

 

NASA using Bloom Energy Cells. Image courtesy of Bloom Energy

 

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The Future of Faraday

With a surprise appearance at the 2017 Long Beach Grand Prix, Faraday Future’s FF91 SUV-sedan crossover continues to make headlines (and turn heads). Faraday’s presence at the Grand Prix clearly signifies that they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, despite financial rumors and minor setbacks. After an impressive yet shaky start last January in Las Vegas for their CES reveal, Faraday Future returns to Long Beach again this year singing on as a title sponsor for the Formula E circuit.

Credit: Eric Blair
FF91 debut at CES 2017

The sleek and stylish FF91 boasts an astounding 1050hp power plant through its patented FF Echelon Inverter straddled over an all-wheel-drive, rear wheel steering chassis. And if 0-60 in 2.39 seconds isn’t enough to get you excited (and your attention) then nothing will. Their proprietary 130 kWh battery configuration claims to be the highest density battery in the world of electric car technology (compliments of LG Chem). It provides an estimated 378 miles per charge (289 EPA), which a bit more distance than the Tesla Model S.

Faraday’s FFID ‘Arrival Interface’ system enabling facial recognition functionality even without smart phone application, allows for a totally keyless experience. Cameras mounted on B-pillars, as well as inside the vehicle match up individual accounts to passenger faces and their facial expressions intuitively anticipating the passenger’s needs adjusting cabin climate, pre-configured seating and music preferences.

The fully autonomous capability of the FF91 is centered around LIDAR technology (Light Detection And Ranging) measuring distance through a pulsed laser light. This retractable 3D LIDAR feature works in unison with 12 ultrasonic sensors, 10 high-definition cameras and 13 long/short range radars creating a 360 degree hyper-detailed image of its surroundings at all times. A system ultimately rejected by Elon Musk due to potential rain and snow challenges, yet embraced by Cadillac’s Super Cruise platform for their new CTS model. The Driverless Valet feature is designed to drop off passengers and then park itself in the nearest available public parking spot until needed. The car can be requested to return for pickup via a personal smartphone app command.

The electric seamless suicide door entry system is inviting as well as space age. The cabin is spacious and luxurious with NASA inspired zero-gravity seating that reclines in a number of supine positions. With the absence of a conventional engine under the hood, the FF91 has room to spare designed to endure long road trips with ease and comfort. Full ceiling panoramic Eclipse Mode offers a complete view of the sky better than any other vehicle on the market. Tap the glass and instantly it darkens for shade and privacy as needed. Side windows can also be adjusted with the slight touch of your finger.

Future Faraday ‘new species’ in car design guarantees a disruptive standard in the next generation of autonomous vehicles, but can they deliver on the hype? With a $5000 USD fully refundable deposit you can be the first to own one of the 300 special edition models slated to roll out sometime in 2018. As far as production price, it’s still anyone’s guess. Speculation and a few hints from Nick Sampson, SVP of R&D and engineering, suggests a price tag somewhere between $100k and $200k. A quick look at their website with its impressive interaction will convince you that they mean business. Having come this far since 2014, one can only surmise that Faraday has big plans for the future.