Bloom Energy: "Close" to Unveiling Its Fuel Cell

The Kleiner Perkins crew graced the cover of the New York Times Sunday Magazine this weekend for Jon Gertner’s snapshot of how venture capitalists are betting big on the cleantech industry. It’s a solid overview of the state of the industry, and for those that have been following the cleantech world closely, it had a few juicy bits on Kleiner’s first cleantech investment, a still somewhat stealthy fuel-cell maker, Bloom Energy. The story says that out of Kleiner’s cleantech investments, Bloom Energy is one of the closest to unveiling a product — the startup “will almost certainly have a commercial product ready within a year or two,” according to the story.

The five-kilowatt Bloom box has supposedly become “a high-functioning machine,” and the story even shows a picture of the white refrigerator-looking box. In a successful test at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga over the past two years, engineers ran a Bloom box on natural gas for 6,000 hours and found it to be twice as efficient as a boiler burning natural gas, with 60 percent lower carbon emissions. Kleiner partner Aileen Lee told Gertner that the Bloom box can produce electricity using natural gas or a variety of liquid fuels, including ethanol.

The story also notes that it’s taken $250 million of investment and six years to get Bloom to where it is today — testing products, with 200 employees and one to two years from delivering a product. After interviewing Kleiner partner John Doerr about Bloom’s finances, Gertner writes that a Bloom IPO is probably another few years away. The company is unusually stealthy for such a mature firm, but it seems like it’s starting to open up a bit now that it’s getting closer to production. If Bloom really does have a commercial fuel cell ready within a year, and it performs as shown in initial testing, Kleiner’s sizable first foray into cleantech could be its first substantial hit.