Is Bloom Energy the next GE?

February 23, 2010

sridhar

Updated on Feb 24.

The blogosphere is rumbling with anticipation of the  “Bloom Box”, a pint-sized “power plant” that could change the way we power our homes and offices forever.

The buzz began Sunday when 60 minutes aired an exclusive profile of the alternative energy fuel cell developed by startup Bloom Energy and its CEO K.R. Sridhar (a former rocket scientist) in Silicon Valley. After eight years in the making, the power plant in a box is set to be released Wednesday with California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Colin Powell on hand.

“You’ll generate your own electricity with the box and it’ll be wireless. The idea is to one day replace the big power plants and transmission line grid, the way the laptop moved in on the desktop and cell phones supplanted landlines,” reports CNet News.

What makes this claim to the perfect, zero-emission energy source different? For starters, backing from Walmart, eBay, Google, Staples, FedEx, and hundreds of millions of dollars in investments.

And, the World Economic Forum names Bloom Energy as one of 26 top 2010 Technology Pioneers: Energy and Environment.

But the Bloom Box isn’t cheap. The Daily Tech reports: “Well, $700,000 to $800,000 will buy you a ‘corporate sized’ unit… To get a view of the cost and benefits, eBay installed 5 of the boxes nine months ago. It says it has saved $100,000 USD on energy since.”

In the 60 Minutes interview, Sridhar says his goal is for the price to come down to about $3,000 for a U.S. household within a few years.

The hype is not new. Since at least 2006, tech industry watchers have kept an eye on Bloom — which has been working on the fuel cell box for more than 8 years.

60 Minutes also ran this Skeptic’s video.


Watch CBS News Videos Online



Is it really too good to be true?

bloombox

Top image shows K.R. Sridhar (L) speaking with CBS reporter Lesley Stahl on Feb 20, 2010. REUTERS/Handout/CBSNews/60Minutes

Bottom image shows an HD frame grab showing the inside of a Bloom Box that appeared on 60 Minutes, Feb 20, 2010. REUTERS/Handout/CBSNews/60Minutes

33 comments

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Been reading lots of articles and comments all over web about Bloom Box. I give Bloom Box inventors credit for seeking ways to wean off oil.
Recommending interested parties gather at World Congress on Zero Emissions in Honolulu in Sept. and together, discuss this and other innovation possibilities and solutions for our future. (www.zeroemissionshawaii.org). It’s time for all the brainiacs to come together.

Posted by BlueEcon | Report as abusive

This looks a killer opportunity. I am so stoked to see how this really works. Our reliance on oil is ultimately going to bring us down, and future generations of Americans are going to hate us for it. Go Bloom!

Posted by StanleyBorsfeld | Report as abusive

The bloom box,
a home fuel cell producing Electricity from Hydrogen or HY extracted from natural gas, I guess.

De-central electric home or business power can cover Peak demands in the U.S., especially with the new Smart grids.

Like once the Internet, the Home power net is next
Read the Pioneer Jeremy Rifkin, Hydrogen economy.

Stays the question if U.S investors are the long time runners to industrialize home fuel cells, produce them in the U.S., make the market entry and control the market.

Or ….go China ?

Posted by Solarlife | Report as abusive

History suggests that one should always bet against the provider of a “revolutionary but highly secret” alternative power source. Advances in power generation (or indeed anything else) generally come in the daylight, with lots of competing companies exploiting widely understood technology and headhunting people between each other. Suppose their product does all they say it does — how come none of the engineers working on it defected and went after venture capital to found their own businesses? That alone would be a first….

Of course, I’d love to be proved wrong this time round, but I’m not holding my breath.

Posted by Ian_Kemmish | Report as abusive

This technology is different, but not the end all to be all. The process is still not emission free. Co2 would be present. There is a ton of other technology being developed in the Bay Area currently. I wouldn’t buy into a $700k – $800k piece of equipment if it will take me 25 years to get my investment back. Cheaper, smaller and more importantly, cleaner solutions are around the corner. As Bloom has suggested… “Be” … but rather “Be patient”. Wait.

Posted by ozperiod | Report as abusive

This seems like the most logical way to move our economy forward. After 7 or 8 years of powering your business this way, the machine will pay for itself. Then you are really saving money. But if we look at it on a national scale, the US would directly be reducing its imports of crude oil, which will decrease our trade deficit and increase our GDP. Sounds like a good invention to me.

Posted by blahhhhhh | Report as abusive

I just hope the oil companies don’t sabotage this.

Posted by Streetfighter | Report as abusive

What happens when we run out of natural gas? Even the best estimates have us running out of domestic (North American) NG during the next 50 years.
We’re going to switch from an energy grid, to local spot production and then what happens to all of those “spots” when we run out of cheap NG?

Bloom’s solid oxide fuel cell tech is proven and I believe they can get the price point down to ~$5,000 for home owners, but again, what happens when NG goes away?

We’d need at least two nuclear power plants per state to create the hydrogen needed to keep these things going once NG becomes too high of a cost for energy production (trust me, when it gets scarce NG will go to fertilizers for food production, not home heating and electricity) and then you’d need a whole new distribution network of pipelines laid down b/c you can’t run hydrogen through old natural gas lines b/c of pressure differences.

AND, if we install all these nuclear reactors to create hydrogen, why aren’t we just using them for electricity? Oh right…we got rid of our electric grid b/c we all spent 50 years using nifty fuel cells in our garages.

Lets just build more nuclear plants (France is 70% nuclear and most of the rest is Hydro) and upgrade to a smart grid and we won’t all need an 8000 degree bomb in our garage. Yes, thats right, a solid oxide fuel cell runs around 8000 degrees F, what about that statement sounds safe in your garage?

GO NUCLEAR, call your congressman and senator, send letters to the White House, when oil and NG run low in a few decades, we will need those remaining (expensive) supplies to make fertilizer, plastics and lubricants, not burning for energy.

Posted by sobriant74 | Report as abusive

Why aren’t oil companies stocks and bonds in the tank? Why aren’t US govt bond yields higher due to oil rich nations dumping bonds because their chief export price is a fraction of what it was yesterday and they can no longer service their debt?

Why? Because the markets do not believe.

Posted by csodak | Report as abusive

sobriant74

Is worried about running out of natural gas.
I suggest that he look at the work with “fire ice” or methane caught in an ice lattice. The supply is huge and the technology is advancing at such a rate as to be in use well before we run out of natural gas.
For his information Methane is a major component of natural gas.

Posted by aeolius | Report as abusive

If the two idiot RINOs Colon Powell and Terminator Schwarzenagger think it is a good idea, it must be fake. After all, they both support Obummer.

Posted by Gringott | Report as abusive

This looks good. It will not replace power plants, as I see it, but will allow inefficient plants to be shut down. For those interested in saving energy take a look at a University of Wisconsin Mechanical Engineering study of running diesel engines on a mixture of diesel fuel and gasoline. They achieved a significant improvement in efficiency and emissions reductions.

Posted by fred5407 | Report as abusive

If this allowes us to stop importing all that oil thats a big win in and of itself. Lets hope that oil companies dont put their dirty hands on it

Posted by PwlM | Report as abusive

Energy from hydrocarbons? What will they think of next?

Posted by Ampo | Report as abusive

If it ran on nothing, then we’d have something. If you start looking at integrating on-the-spot hydrogen production, things start looking ugly. It’s gotta be cheap, last almost forever and need zero maintenance. High efficiency on-smartgrid solar voltaics are probably a more practical and promising solution.

Posted by fwupow | Report as abusive

50 years b4 we run out of DOMESTIC NG production?

Real questions should be:

If accurate… is that 50 years based on current useage?

What if one of these devices is in every garage? H

ow much NG does the device use to produce an equivalent pound of coal?

How many underground streams will be poluted to get the NG out of the ground?

What are the waste byproducts? What kind of impact will they have on the environment (actual vs potential)?

Can nuclear be made safely? France seems to think so…but then… France recycles the waste and creates an even greater potentially toxic radioactive ByProduct. Where is THAT stored?

How does mining Uranium impact the environment as opposed to NG.

How do Breeder Reactors work? Make your own fuel while you produce energy?

What other resources are involved with Nuclear production?

Where can we get an endless supply of NG? Is this place owned, governed, controlled by US interests?

Who are we competing with for NG vs Uranium?

How much Uranium is in the ground?

How many photons will the sun release b4 it runs out of energy?

How clean (really) is wind and PV power?

What are the bi-products of these clean energy alternatives?

PV’s must be manufactured. What chemicals are used to mfg PV’s.

How can those chemicals leach into water supplies?

Posted by eleaders | Report as abusive

aeolius

Will it be in use b4 we run out of ice?

Posted by eleaders | Report as abusive

we could just take all the nuclear waste and jettison it out into space…oh wait NASA’s funding just tanked

Posted by stu4202 | Report as abusive

There’s nothing particularly new about stationary fuel cells powered by natural gas generating electricity. Another player in this game is Plug Power(NASDAQ:PLUG), who has been selling its units for a while now. Finding a use for all that excess shale gas is an enticing idea, but these systems will have to pass the tests of stability, reliability and true economy before being ready for mass adoption.

Posted by talongold | Report as abusive

Or..how about we do nothing! Most everybody needs to wake up and realize the facts, that man made global warming is a farce. We must continue to rely on the 200+ year supply of US COAL that currently supplies over 50% of our nation’s low cost electricity. Continue to look for ways to reduce coal’s carbon footprint, but we as a nation are doomed without economical, low cost energy based on coal. Please excuse me while I go out to shovel more snow!!!

Posted by JoeGolf | Report as abusive

The upside here it that there are ideas out there for a better energy mouse trap. That’s what’s needed to find the next great invention. Trying to improve and finding more efficient self reliant ways.

Posted by justanotherjoe | Report as abusive

Ozperiod…how did you come up with a 25 year payback?

Amy Szoczlas Cole, the Director of eBay’s Green Team estimates that eBay’s system will pay for itself within three years that is an acceptable capital deployment payback period when the life expectancy of the equipment is 10 years. At an annual savings of $133,333 per year or $933,331 over the remaining 7 years of profitable life, for those who are environmentally conscious, its worth the investment and I’m certain that in times where workers are losing faith in corporations, it gives employees a reason to cheer.

Posted by csodak | Report as abusive

Oz is coming up with the same math I am – 700K each, times 5, is $3.5 million. If you only get back $100k per year, you’re looking at an extreme long ball there, 35 years. Assumably these are initial releases, and better ones are coming, and they upgrade, it’s still a very long term investment.

At least currently. And the details on how much equivelance in fuel it produces are continually vague. If it efficently can convert the energy then it’s great, but a concern would be if it was grossly inefficient, like converting the hydrogen out of water has proven to be thus far.

Posted by Evadrepus | Report as abusive

Biofuel from hemp would be a carbon neutral fuel. Oh yeah, oil lobby won’t let that come out either.

Posted by Ecobabe | Report as abusive

There seems to be a lot of misguided focus on natural gas. Any fossil fuel input will work, according to the interview. The gain comes from the fact that this technology reduces the amount of fuel required to generate a given measure of electricity by about 50%, if I remember the interview correctly.
I think the fact that Google was able to save $100k in 9 months is an excellent endorsement, but with four units at, say, $800K each, that gives an ROI of approximately 24 years. That is a tough sell without other incentives.
But the point is we need to be doing SOMETHING. Even if this is not the answer, it is a move in the right direction.
JoeGolf: Coal? Are you kidding me? Ever lived near a strip mine, topping operation, or deep mine? Live where those chimneys are spewing out plumes of Carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, mercury, arsenic, lead? I bet not. I bet your relationship to coal fired power plants is the electrical line to your house. Look, I’m all for responsibly exploiting domestic resources, but burying our head in the sand isn’t responsible.

Posted by Artifex | Report as abusive

Portable fuel cells have been on sale for households and for a lot less than this one.

http://www.morphic.se/en/Business-Areas/ Fuelcells/Products/Complete-Fuel-Cells/

Posted by Montpessat | Report as abusive

What a load of bs hype. Hugely expensive technology that will never be economic, despite the hype to the contrary. And what benefit does it offer? Lower CO2 “pollution”? Give me a break. Far better to skip this dubious technology and simply use NG to drive combined cycle turbines or converted diesel powered generators.

Posted by OracleOfMumbai | Report as abusive

@sobriant74 said:

“What happens when we run out of natural gas? Even the best estimates have us running out of domestic (North American) NG during the next 50 years.
We’re going to switch from an energy grid, to local spot production and then what happens to all of those “spots” when we run out of cheap NG?”

50 years? Time to throw away those 1950 editions of your Encyclopedia methinks, lol. In just the last 3 years, the US has grown PROVEN reserves by about 33% – pushing us well past the century mark. And with the pace of shale gas discoveries seeming to remain high, I suspect we’ll see 100% reserve growth in the next decade. Then add all that LNG that is coming on around the world and we are awash in cheap, clean nat gas.

Posted by OracleOfMumbai | Report as abusive

More smoke and mirrors for a culture of waste.
We have no problem creating electricity, the most viable form of clean energy, we just don’t have anyway of storing it. Have we abandoned the age of the raging ego for the age of arrogance? Simple energy conservation would probably save more energy than the Bloom Box will ever create.

Posted by royevatom | Report as abusive

first, it’s not a question of when will we run out of NG. Bloom does not reduce our dependence on fossil fuel sources. In that respect, this is an evolutionary not a revolutionary shift in power supply.

However, we can look to the personal printer to peek into the potential that Bloom represents. HP / IBM / Okidata / et al did not eliminate paper when the shift to personal printers took place. Over the last 25 years or so, we don’t have a paperless society as once predicted. However, we have the shifted power of communication from a few to many. Internet blogs (like this one) have moved this even further.

While Bloom will not change the dependence on fossil fuel, it does radically shift the political and economic landscape of power generation and distribution. Which in turn will almost certainly lead to more interesting (and sustainable) innovation.

Posted by CEOsherpa | Report as abusive

As said by seasoned business leaders back in 2008 prior to the fall elections (both T.Boone Pickens and Fred Smith of Fedex), our country needs to diversify its energy production.

A prime example would be to electrify the short-haul transportation system. Battery powered for commute distances of less than 50 miles.

Another alternative energy company (and it will take many such inventive companies) is Capstone Microturbine. They have a 35 to 60 KW micro-turbine that can provide “range-boosting” electricity from NG or diesel, and can recharge batteries in an electrical car, truck or bus, and more than triple its battery-only range.

These well-respected business leaders said that we would need a “bridge technology” to go from predominantly internal combustion transportation model to an electrified transportation model.

Take a look at CPST (Capstone).

Posted by alt-nrg-4-me | Report as abusive

[...] Is Bloom Energy the next GE? | Analysis & Opinion | Reuters. [...]

[...] What makes this claim to the perfect, zero-emission energy source different? For starters, backing from Walmart, eBay, Google, Staples, FedEx, and hundreds of millions of dollars in investments. continue here [...]

Taking France nuclear energy as an example …
The French nuclear industry seems to think it’s fair to ship nuclear waste to Russia and other countries and then forget about it (or worse to 3rd world countries or dumping them in Indian ocean). They think that keeping the waste away from the French public will protect their glossy image.

Posted by Jimrom | Report as abusive

So one thing that I think is missing in the equation is the energy cost of producing the fuel cells. They aren’t infinite, which means they are consumable, which means they need to be replaced periodically. What is going to make these? Unless they’ve come up with a way of getting more electricity out of a fuel cell than it takes to produce them, it is worthless.

Posted by BooneBeausoleil | Report as abusive

[...] Is Bloom Energy the next GE? | Analysis & Opinion | Reuters. [...]