Thursday, February 25, 2010
Cold Fusion Again? ... I love either a Great Scientific Break Through OR a Great Hoax... which is it?
FD: Bloom Energy Boxes for the home... I like the sound of that!
This is getting a lot of interesting comments:
At a press conference Wednesday, Silicon Valley startup Bloom Energy showed off its new, heavily hyped technology, which harnesses chemical reactions to create energy. The company’s mission: to revolutionize the world’s fuel sources.
Bloom’s main product is the Bloom Energy Server, a generator based around a smart new fuel cell technology. Fuel cells rely upon chemical reactions to generate energy rather than fossil fuels, and as such are considered cleaner, more affordable, and more reliable than the traditional energy sources.
Fuel cell technology has been under development for decades, primarily concentrating on chemical reactions using hydrogen — an element that can be volatile and difficult to store. Bloom’s fuel cell technology is fundamentally different, running on a wide range of renewable or traditional fuels.
The technology has roots in NASA’s Mars space program, where Dr. KR Sridhar, principal co-founder and CEO of Bloom Energy, was charged with building technology to help sustain life on Mars. His mandate: Use solar energy and water to produce air to breath and fuel for transportation.
Sridhar’s invention converts air and nearly any fuel source — ranging from natural gas to a wide range of biogases — into electricity via a clean electrochemical process, rather than dirty combustion.
Even running on a fossil fuel, the systems are approximately 67% cleaner than a typical coal-fired power plant, explains Bloom. When powered by a renewable fuel, the company’s Energy Server can be 100% cleaner. Each Energy Server consists of thousands of Bloom’s fuel cells, flat, solid ceramic squares made from a common sand-like “powder.”
Bloom Energy states that to date, Bloom Energy Servers, currently in deployment for several Fortune 500 companies, have produced more than 11 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity, with CO2 reductions estimated at 14 million pounds.
The technology industry breathlessly watched and waited for Wednesday’s unveiling. John Doerr, a partner at investment firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Bloom Energy board member, shared in the hype.
“For years, there have been promises of new energy solutions that are clean, distributed, affordable, and reliable; today we learn that Bloom, formerly in stealth, has actually delivered,” he said. “Americans want clean, affordable, energy, 24×7 — and all the jobs that go with it. Bloom’s boxes are a breakthrough, serving energy, serving demanding customers, and serving our country.”
The company’s customers seem to echo Doerr’s enthusiasm, many of which are leading businesses. Coca-Cola, Cox, eBay, FedEx, Google, Staples, and more have been running the Energy Servers.
Coke’s 500kW installation at its Odwalla plant in Dinuba, CA, will run on re-directed biogas and is expected to provide 30% of the plant’s power needs while reducing its carbon footprint by an estimated 35%.
“This new fuel cell technology has great promise and represents an important step for Coca-Cola in continuing to grow our business without growing the carbon footprint,” said Brian Kelley, President and General Manager, Coca-Cola North America. He noted that the Bloom Servers can help the company reduce carbon emissions while improving efficiency and using cleaner forms of energy.”
In a video shown at the event, California Senator Dianne Feinstein, Cypress Semiconductor CEO T.J. Rogers, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others raved about the new innovation.
Mayor Bloomberg said he was excited from the first time he saw the technology in action: “My first reaction was this was a company guaranteed for greatness.”
“When we look at Bloom Energy,” he added, “we are looking at the future of business, at the future of the economy, at the future of America.”
WSJ was also there:
By JIM CARLTON
SAN JOSE, Calif.—A Silicon Valley start-up unveiled devices it claims can generate electricity at a price that will win customers, while cutting down significantly on emissions.
The formal announcement by Bloom Energy Corp. follows almost a decade of stealth development. Appearing on the campus here of eBay Inc.—one of several large companies that have been testing the devices—the company asserted its fuel-cell technology is nothing less than a breakthrough in weaning the world off conventional power.
"What people need to understand is we are not building a company, we are building an industry," said KR Sridhar, Bloom's chief executive officer.
KR Sridhar, co-founder and CEO of Silicon Valley startup Bloom Energy, held up a stack of fuel cells at a news conference at eBay offices in San Jose, Calif.
The statement is expected to meet skepticism, because fuel cells so far have proven too expensive to serve as a viable alternative to grid-supplied power. But Bloom officials say a number of large companies have tested the technology and found it works as advertised.
"The proof of the pudding is the reaction from the business people," said former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who joined Bloom's board last year, during an event that also included an appearance by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
A lower manufacturing cost is one of Bloom's biggest advantages, company officials say. Whereas other fuel cells contain polymers and platinum that make them prohibitively expensive, Mr. Sridhar said Bloom's consist of specially coated ceramic squares made from a common sand-like substance.
Electricity is generated when fuel—such as natural gas—is passed through the ceramic. Carbon dioxide is released in the process, but much less than through burning fossil fuels, Bloom says.
The company says each Bloom Energy Server costs $700,000 to $800,000 and produces 100 kilowatts of power—enough for 100 homes.
Factoring subsidies in California for installing such equipment, customers wind up paying eight cents to 10 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity, said Stu Aaron, Bloom's vice president of marketing and product management. They now typically pay about 13 cents, he said.
Bloom didn't provide an estimate for costs without subsidies. The Energy Information Administration estimates that the average U.S. retail retail price for commercial customers in October was 9.46 cents per kilowatt hour and 6.16 cents for industrial customers, suggesting Bloom may have a tougher time selling in some states. "We are initially focused on California," Mr. Aaron said.
EBay has saved $100,000 in power costs since installing five Bloom devices on a campus near its headquarters here last July, said John Donahoe, its chief executive. They provide about 15% of the power on the campus.
Officials from testers such as Google Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. also reported energy savings. All the systems were purchased rather than loaned, Mr. Aaron said.
Analysts say the technology shows promise but faces hurdles such as a tendency of fuel cells to break down. "This technology will be proven only over time," said Dallas Kachan, managing director of the Cleantech Group, an industry research firm in San Francisco.
The principal financial backer of Bloom, which first discussed its technology Sunday night on CBS-TV's "60 Minutes," is Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. The well-known venture-capital firm funded some big Silicon Valley hits like eBay and Google as well as some notable failures, such as the online supermarket Webvan Group Inc.
—Don Clark contributed to this article.
Write to Jim Carlton at email@example.com