Is the Bloom Box Energy Server the Future of Plug and Play Electricity?

Bloom Box

After 8 years in stealth mode, Bloom Energy has finally revealed all about its Bloom Box fuel cell device (AKA the Bloom Energy Server). We already learned a lot from Sunday's 60 Minutes segment on the device, and our interview with eBay executive Amy Szoczlas Cole revealed even more. Here's what we learned from today's press conference at eBay headquarters.

The Bloom Energy fuel cell is essentially a flat piece of sand made from a process dubbed "Powder to Power." The cell can run on a variety of fuels, including traditional fuel, natural gas, biomass gas, landfill gas, and ethanol--all without the need to use complex chemical plants for processing. A single cell-filled Bloom Box provides 100 kW of power and has a 3 to 5 year payback period with fixed costs for 10 years. Any piece of the device that isn't working can be swapped out without bringing down the whole thing.

The Bloom Energy Server is twice as efficient compared to the standard electric grid for two reasons, according to the just-unveiled Bloom Web site: "Bloom's unmatched efficiency in converting fuel to electricity means that our systems produce significantly more electricity for the same fuel costs. Second, our ability to generate the electricity on-site eliminates the need for costly transmission and distribution infrastructure." According to an article in the New York Times, Bloom devices can produce power at 8 to 10 cents per kWh using natural gas--lower than some commercial electricity prices, but remember: natural gas isn't a renewable resource.

So far, Bloom has partnered with eBay, Coca-Cola, Walmart, FedEx, Staples, Google, Bank of America, and Cox Enterprises. Bloom Energy founder K.R. Sridhar says that Bloom has powered over 11 million kWh and cut 14 million pounds of CO2 since installing the pilot devices. Coke says that its Bloom Box is already powering a third of an Odwalla plant, and Cox claims that its four units at KTVU in San Francisco power 70% of the facility. Walmart's units power 60% to 80% of the energy needs in the buildings where they are installed, while Google is using a unit to power an R&D center.

A decade from now, the Bloom Energy Server could be hooked up in homes and used to power electric vehicles in conjunction with solar panels. Sridhar explains that leftover solar energy could go into Bloom's Home Energy Server for later use. And eventually, Bloom board member Colin Powell envisions the boxes being used in third-world African countries. But the cost will have to come down before that can happen--the current price of $700,000 to $800,000 is far too expensive, and even the projected residential price of approximately $3,000 is pushing it.

Bloom Energy founder K.R. Sridhar calls the device the "plug-and-play future of electricity" since there are no moving parts, no vents, and no loud buzzing noises. Fair enough, but we learned in our interview with eBay that the company has already had maintenance teams come out to swap fuel cells in its Bloom Energy Servers, which have been running for just 7 months. How efficient can a residential unit ever be if maintenance teams have to constantly come out to fix things? And what is the projected lifespan of a stack of Bloom's fuel cells? We have to hope that Bloom works out some of its kinks before bringing the servers to the residential market.

[Via CNET, Engadget]

Read more about Bloom Box:
Bloom Energy Unveils Its Ultra-Secretive Bloom Box Fuel Cell
eBay Opens Up About Installing Bloom Boxes and Their Room for Improvement
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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3 Comments

  • L. Vidal

    "How efficient can a residential unit ever be if maintenance teams have to constantly come out to fix things?" Instead of looking at the negitive side of the maintenance requirements, why not acknowledge the the maintenance requirements are going to generate a whole new job market putting Americans back to work!
    "And what is the projected lifespan of a stack of Bloom's fuel cells? " And what is the lifespan of today's automobiles??? Let's get serious here, we don't need the darn things to work forever, but they are said to have a projected life span of ten years. Most of us replace our cars every three to four years and computers every two, so this would be refreshing to have technology that would last longer.

  • Michael Galiazzo

    Like all new inventions that offer great possibilities for social and economic advancements, this one is viewed with both hopefulness and skepticism. I bet 40 years ago if I told someone that in 2010 I would be sitting in front of a little 23 inch "box" communicating instantaneously with the world via, sound, video and text,that too would have been viewed with hopefulness and skepticism.

  • Steven Harbauer

    The "Bloom's Home Energy Server" is a fantasy.
    The thing weighs 10 tons, and at it's core is a 850 C thermal process.
    There is always a minium cost to install anything - that's why the smallest installed residential solar is always 2kW or more (unless you are a wire-head or tree-hugger and "just want it" or do it yourself)
    However, it's neat to know about - the best thing I have found thus far (other than the cool animation on the bloomenergy.com website) is here:
    http://tinyurl.com/ye8bvzq