Bloom Energy Unveils Its Ultra-Secretive Bloom Box Fuel Cell

Bloom Box

If you keep track of green technology companies, you may have heard rumblings about Bloom Energy, a secretive company that has raised nearly $400 million from investors like Kleiner Perkins for its supposedly game-changing fuel cell device. Now the eight year old company is finally emerging from the shadows with the Bloom Box, a $700,000 to $800,000 machine that 60 Minutes calls "a little power plant-in-a-box." So what exactly is the Bloom Box?

The box consists of a stack of ceramic disks coated with green and black "inks." The disks are separated by cheap metal alloy plates. Methane (or other hydrocarbons) and oxygen are fed in, the whole thing is heated up to 1,000 degrees Celsius, and electricity comes out. Bloom estimates that a box filled with 64 ceramic disks can produce enough juice to power a Starbucks.

As of right now, Bloom isn't angling for the residential market--the box is far too expensive. But major companies like eBay, Google, Staples, and FedEx have already secretly started using the boxes. So far, the Bloom Box has been a success--eBay has already saved $100,000 in electricity costs since its 5 boxes were installed nine months ago. EBay even claims that the boxes generate more power than the 3,000 solar panels at its headquarters.

Of course, fuel cells aren't new. They have just been too expensive to be viable until now, and Bloom still has to prove that its box can produce energy at a cheaper rate than other power sources. The box also produces carbon dioxide as a byproduct--a potential downside depending on how much it generates.

Bloom Energy founder K.R. Sridhar estimates that a Bloom Box for the residential market could be out in 5 to 10 years for under $3,000. That's a big improvement from the $800,000 box of today, but only time will tell if Sridhar is being overly optimistic. And in the coming years, big name competitors will probably catch up to Bloom with cost-efficient boxes of their own. Will the Bloom Box and fuel cell devices like it eventually replace the power grid? Probably not, but they have the chance to one day at least partially free homeowners from the grid--along with solar panels, wind turbines, and other alternative energy sources.

Check out the 60 Minutes segment on the Bloom Box below for more info.

[60 Minutes]

Read more about Bloom Box:
eBay Opens Up About Installing Bloom Boxes and Their Room for Improvement
Is the Bloom Box Energy Server the Future of Plug and Play Electricity?
How Does the Bloom Box Energy Server Work?
Could the Wondrous Bloom Box Power Your Alt-Fuel Car and Smartphone Too?

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21 Comments

  • cesar aguilera

    I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW HOW MUCH WILL COST TO IN TALL A CELL BOX ON MY HOUSE. MY HOUSE IS TWO STORY HOUSE THE SQ FT 3174 IN HOUSTON TEXAS IF YOU CAN PLEASE LET ME KNOW. THANK YOU

  • Robert Quarles

    To Donovan Moore and Go Og:

    When are you right wing, tea bagging loudmouths going to check actual facts instead of relying on Fox News soundbites?

    I hate to burst your bubble, but "traditional" carbon based / dirty energy recieves far more of "your tax dollars" via subsidies than renewable / green energy sources do.

    Per the DOE Energy Brief FY07: "...The estimated FY07 subsidies for traditional primary energy sources used for electricity production were significant in total dollars. It is estimated that coal received $854 million, nuclear received $1,267 million, and natural gas and petroleum liquids received $227 million." vs. FY07 subsidies of $174 million for wind power and $724 million for solar power.

    Just in case you need it, here's a definition of subsidy (per DOE):

    "A subsidy represents a transfer of Federal Government resources to the buyer or seller of a good or service that has the effect of reducing the price paid, increasing the price received, or reducing the cost of production of the good or service. Put simply, the Federal Government promotes targeted energy outcomes, such as production of a specific fuel or promotion of conservation and energy efficiency by energy consumers through incentives such as tax credits, grants, and low interest loans."

  • magnumfinger

    It was said that the device could be installed in homes, generating both electricity and heat, which would result in big efficiency gains. Commenters on Reddit point out that the real savings may lie in avoiding transmission and maintenance costs with a machine that’s much simpler to handle than a full fledged power plant. Although the boxes cost a lot (up to $800K), the amount of power they allegedly put out more than makes up for it.
    Is this the future? http://bit.ly/9uG6Is

  • Go Og

    To all the enviro freaks out there you have no control over the environment and nice job on preventing the earthquakes in Chilie and Haiti. When you realize we are no where close to having the technology to do so the better off you will be. Quit spending tax payer dollars that we currently do not have in to useless political scams. Al Gore is selling beach front property in the Arctic right now while he sits on the hot simmering tundra. I think hes even starting a polar bears in bikinis calendar.

  • Garry Golden

    I've been following Bloom since it was Ion Power days... and am thrilled to see their product (and materials innovations) arrive in the market!

    I believe the real story here is how we rethink 'fuels' and distributed power generation. This is not a holy grail, but it is certainly disruptive to a world in which building power generation is so capital intensive and fragile based on the centralized power plant schematic. Pulling 'fuels' (not just solar/wind energy capture) closer to the point of power generation and user -- is a solid strategy for bringing billions of people online! Well done Bloom!!

    A few posts that I've written --

    http://www.garrygolden.net/201...

    http://www.garrygolden.net/201...

    Garry G
    Brooklyn, NY

  • Art Kns

    Hello, what am I missing here? Are you using some "new" math?

    How can eBay see a cost savings of $20,00 ($2,200/mon) per unit
    in 9 months?

    There are only 730 hours per month so at 100% utilization (highly
    unlikely), a single unit would generate 73,000 Kwh of power worth
    $6,570 at 9 cents per Kwh. The natural gas fuel would cost $3280
    (0.661x10^6 Btu/hr * 9.71x10^-6 ccf/Btu * 1 hr/100Kwh * $0.70/ccf)
    (= 4.5 cents/Kwh at $0.70/ccf) for a difference of $3290/mon. But
    that's without a minute of downtime, zero maintenance, zero non-fuel
    operating costs and no amortization of the equipment. A ten year,
    4% interest loan for $750,000 requires a monthly debt service of
    $7,600. The value of the generated power does not even cover debt
    service alone, let alone fuel, maintenance, etc.

    Companies such as Google and eBay require continuous 24/7 power for
    their large server farms but homeowners do not. The only way for
    residential boxes to make sense would be to include sales of unused
    power back to the grid. This would add substantially to the $3000
    unit cost. The higher cost of fuel to homeowners (6.4 cents/Kwh at
    $1/ccf), would reduce the savings differential and financing would
    probably cost more than 4% as well.

    This looks promising and has great potential for a lot of uses. I'm
    all for technology, going green and energy independence but I don't
    see how this pencils out now. The price has to come down by about a
    factor of five to be viable (which it very well could), but the
    numbers in the article just do not compute.
    =================================
    Refs:
    http://bloomenergy.com/product...
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B...

  • alex price

    Why don’t we start looking at companies that WILL make a difference, just been looking at www.cleanpowertechnologies.com they have a system working, making electricity, and reducing emissions, all in the same size box, with this I don’t get it....how much fuel does it take to power up???? how safe is it?????? How much CO2 does it produce????and how loud is it??????...............

  • Christopher Gellatly

    I would be interested to know more about the "How it works".
    As it is in a development stage at the moment, it is not cost effective. Solar was also not cost effective when it was first introduced to market.

    I like the zero emissions aspect of it but one has to wonder exactly how long the chemical reaction in the chamber/cube before parts need to be replaced. I doubt there is 30 years of 24/7 draw.

    Also it will greatly reduce the demands on the very old grid system which is currently nearing capacity.

    It also has great potential in disaster aid due to its size.

    By implemeting the Bloombox everywhere we will be more dependent on the other grid system throughout the urban centers(natural gas).

    Wassail!!!!

  • Bill Busenkelll

    So, Mr. Moore,
    Am I to understand then that the only non-scam way to get electricity is to buy it from a power company?
    There is no subsidy or tax breaks or tax money going to those companies? They operate on a pure market system with no manipulation? They produce electricity in the most efficient manner with the lowest environment and health impacts?
    Good to know. I will give up my solar/wind dream fund and keep paying Edison.

  • Donovan Moore

    Solar is a total scam too. Without government tax breaks, solar does NOT pay off either. Just the facts.

  • Ricky Sunshine

    It will be great to see this work. In the meantime, there is plenty of abundant and affordable solar power available now. Did you know the sun produces 400 trillion trillion watts of energy every second?

    When you go solar you'll enjoy a $0 or very low power bill for the 25 or 30 year life of the system. For example, if you spend $200 per month for electricity with a utility, then you will spend $81,979 over 25 years. No matter how you calculate it, you will save money with a $5,000 to $25,000 solar panel system. Remember, you can pay the utility for 25 years, with annual price increases, or you can pay a lot less for solar power. You'll also get some great tax credits and cash rebates, and you will increase the value of your home.

    To take action today, visit SolarPanelsOnline.org

  • Donovan Moore

    Oh, also the 50% savings are total bunk. I used another source and the savings on most fuel cells are in the 15% range, not 50%.

  • Donovan Moore

    Total scam. The ebay savings are Only because of Tax credits IE TAX PAYER MONEY. No gov money, and these do not make any economic sense. More ways to screw over the little guy so big business can get cheaper power. It's total bs.

  • Chris Reich

    Before jumping either onto or off of this bandwagon, consider all the information in the video.

    The Bloom Box is 50% more efficient than a traditional fossil fuel driven energy plant. Okay, that's reasonable. He's not claiming free energy from water as many "fuel cell" inventors do. He's claiming a higher efficiency.

    Next is cost. You can't say that Ebay spent $4 million to save $100,00 and therefore this is a big dud. Ebay bought development units. The cost is very high on any early model prototype. The wealthy always pay the way to less expensive, more efficient design. Thank you Ebay, Google and Starbucks.

    Also, the Ebay boxes are running from BIO gas produced from waste. That's a positive in terms of carbon footprint.

    Let's say there are maintenance and longevity issues to factor in. Fine. This looks like it has the potential to be far more modular to repair than solar. When the cost is lower, I'm sure a stack of the ceramic plates could be swapped out or a filter replaced, etc. It won't be as easy to replace solar panels mounted on the roof. I find it very hard to believe solar panels will last 30 years exposed to weather and UV even in the mild environment of the San Francisco area.

    The Bloom Box is not making "free" energy, it's merely pushed the efficiency up 50% from where it is now---at the production level. We should factor in the loss incurred in transmission too. These boxes, placed on site, eliminate transmission loss. The claim is reasonable.

    Finally, producing electricity on-site reduces grid demand and reliance. When the big earthquake hits San Francisco, those with Bloom Boxes will have power.

    I didn't hear any wild claims by the developer though 60 minutes edited the piece to imply a few. The beaches of the world are covered with the free material. They use a cheap alloy instead of platinum. I can get my electricity from that? Yes. There is an implication that the box makes energy rather than converts stored energy into usable energy. 60 Minutes wanted us to get the sexiness of the product without bogging us down in the physics.

    It's certainly worthwhile if the cost can be reduced. And if GE steps in and buys him out? So what, he'll make a killing.

    Good luck!

    Chris Reich
    www.TeachU.com

  • nobody22

    Natural gas fuel cells are useful, but they're hardly a new discovery and are not the only game in town.

    www.greentechmedia.com/article...

    Ebay's solar panels provide up to 650 kilowatts of the 4,000 kilowatts that the building requires.

    They purchased four of these 100-kilowatt power plants, so it's reasonable that the power plants could outperform the solar panels on cloudy days.

  • Daniel Phelan

    Turning gas into power is not new. PEM fuel cells do it and only release water vapor. IS this a natural gas powered electrical supply? Funny that they didn't mention how much natural gas it uses. 1000 Celsius is pretty hot, how do they get that heat?

    This concept would be good for expanding distributed generation of power. Distributing the generation of power increases the value of the existing power infrastructure.

  • pete harrar

    Can someone please pull out a simple calculator and do the math here? According to Ebay, they saved 100K in 9 months. Annualized savings is 133K. Upfront investment is 4 million dollars for 5 units. That means, if you stuck the 4 million in lousy t-bills at zero interest, it would still take 30 years to amortize the debt. That's also considering there would be zero maintenance costs for these units. Does anyone seriously believe these things will last 30 years????? If you do, can you please stop by my house, I have some bridges for sale at unbelievably low prices.

  • David Farrar

    Okay, I give up: How much electrical energy does "Starbucks" use?
    How much energy has to go into the Bloombox to generate "X" amount of electrical energy?

    ex animo
    davidfarrar