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.
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.
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?
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.
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.