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February 21, 2010

Bloom Energy Box Revealed on CBS 60 Minutes

K. R Sidhar invented a new kind of fuel cell, which is like a very skinny battery that always runs.

60 Minutes reports that the magic behind the Bloom Box starts with the company baking basic sand and cutting it into little squares that are turned into a ceramic, which are then coated with green and black “inks.” Using a special process Bloom creates these ceramic discs and stacks them together interspersed with metal plates of “a cheap metal alloy.” The bigger the stack the more power the Bloom Box will create.

UPDATE- The Bloom Energy site is open with some technical details and data sheets and there will be a media event today (Feb 24, 2010)

Nextbigfuture has a follow up article with more details, news and analysis of the Bloom box and fuel cells

EETimes has some more details

The Bloom Box are traditional fuel cell stacks consisting of ceramic and proton exchange membranes separated by metal catalyst plates. However, instead of expensive platinum, Sridhar has engineered an inexpensive metal alloy substitute.

It is still not clear if Bloom Energy has cracked the cost and reliability issues with fuel cells. There are limited technical and economic details.
CEO Sridhar told BusinessWeek, the Bloom box could reach “grid parity” for home use, or competitive pricing with conventional electricity sources in 3-5 years.

Perhaps at the Wednesday press conference there will be technical details. Scaling down a natural gas plant and providing similar costs and reliability would be a big deal. On site power generation would avoid losses of electricity from transmission of power over the grid.

The Bloom Energy website has a clock counting down to the press conference

Fortune Magazine reports Bloom Box have ceramic plates stacked atop each other to form modules that can be assembled into a unit of any size.

Bloom energy has received about $400 million in funding and has been developing the technology for about eight years. Kleiner Perkins and other major Venture Capitalists are backing Bloom Energy.

Google told Fortune that it has a 400 kilowatt installation from Bloom at its headquarters in Mountain View, California.

Ebay has installed Five of the Bloom boxes and they supply 15% of the power of the campus and have saved Ebay $100,000 in electricity costs in nine months.

Fuel Cell Energy, Inc., a small firm based in Danbury, Connecticut that went public in 1992 and has over 60 fuel-cell installations worldwide at companies ranging from Pepperidge Farm to Westin Hotels. Like Bloom, it also hasn’t figured out how to make money, losing $71 million last year on revenues of $88 million.


Earth2tech reports Bloom’s first customers are big tech companies like eBay and Google that have been using the large Bloom Boxes, which cost between $700,000 to $800,000, to power campuses and data centers (or power for 100 homes so about 1 megawatt 100 kilowatt). But Sridhar tells 60 Minutes that in 5 to 10 years the company hopes to deliver a smaller Bloom box for under $3,000 for the residential market. Both that price tag and that time frame seem waaay too optimistic — I’d say at least double both estimates for a more realistic plan.

Business Week reports Bloom Energy's vice-president for marketing and product management, confirms press reports about a University of Tennessee trial in which a Bloom box capable of powering a 5,000-square-foot home proved twice as efficient as a traditional gas-burning system and produced 60% fewer emissions.







Watch CBS News Videos Online

FURTHER READING

Link to fuel cell industry fact sheets

Fuel cells are about 60% efficient at converting fuel to power.

Portable fuel cells were a $189 million market and were predicted to be $2.6 billion in 2016

2009 World Fuel Cell report - The world commercial market for fuel cells -- including revenues associated with prototyping and test marketing activities, as well as actual product sales -- will more than triple to $1.9 billion in 2013 and then almost triple again to $5.1 billion in 2018. so the 2009 world fuel cell market was about $500-600 million. The world battery market was $71 billion.

A 2006 fuel cell industry report (16 page pdf) -has a list of companies

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