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10 Things to Know About Bloom Energy

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Eight years and close to $400 million later, ultra-stealthy fuel cell maker Bloom Energy is finally ready to officially launch and ditch its “stealth-mode” status. The company started its first ever media blitz on Sunday with a video on 60 Minutes, an article in Fortune, and soon to be followed by the unveiling media event on Wednesday.

But while the public is just starting to hear the Bloom Energy name, greentech watchers have been scrambling for every little bit of information about Bloom Energy for years. Founder K.R. Sridhar told Fortune that the company is going public now because its Fortune 500 customers want to be able to brag about it as a green move. Here’s 10 things that you should know about Bloom Energy:

1). It’s doing something that many are tackling: While Bloom Energy is now positioning itself as revolutionary — that will replace the power grid no less — fuel cells have been under development by endless amounts of companies for decades. Any consumer electronics company from Samsung to Sharp, or auto maker, from Hyundai to Toyota, has researchers developing fuel cell technology. Fuel cell patents have consistently remained at the top of the list of out of greentech patents filed every year according to Clean Energy Patent Growth Index (CEPGI). The problem is that fuel cells have remained too expensive. We’ll see if Bloom can get those costs down.

2). It’s far from a residential play: Bloom’s first customers are big tech companies like eBay (s EBAY) and Google (s GOOG) that have been using the large Bloom Boxes, which cost between $700,000 to $800,000, to power campuses and data centers. 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.

3). Kleiner’s Big Bet: Bloom Energy was famed venture capital fund Kleiner Perkin’s first foray into greentech and Sridhar tells Fortune that he was “the evangelist who opened the company’s eyes to its huge potential.” Kleiner needs a successful company in greentech to justify its investments post-dot com — will Bloom be it?

4). Bloom Energy IPO?: Even when Bloom was still in stealth an IPO was being discussed. Kleiner partner John Doerr said at an event late last year that he’d wager Bloom will take “nine years to a successful public offering.” So, I guess that means one more year to go?

5). Bloom Financials: While Doerr said late last year that Bloom now has “substantial revenues and orders,” Fortune reports that according to its VC sources Bloom lost $85 million in 2008. Well, profits haven’t stopped other greentech firms from eying IPOs (Tesla). Bloom has reportedly raised close to $400 million in funding.

6). In With Google: Bloom’s first customer was Google, and the search engine giant is reportedly using 4 Bloom Boxes to power a datacenter. It’s easy to see why Google would be eager to test out the technology: Google has been very interested in the energy industry (just recently it was approved to buy and sell electricity) and has been aggressive on innovating on energy efficiency technology for its data centers to reduce costs (see GigaOM Pro Report: Green Data Center Design Strategies). Connections also help, too: Doerr and the Kleiner folks were early backers in Google.

7). Former Mars Mission Tech: Sridhar originally came up with the idea for the Bloom Box after developing a device for NASA that would be able to create oxygen on Mars. After NASA ditched their Mars mission, Sridhar had the idea to reverse the oxygen-creating Mars box and use oxygen as the input instead. Voila the Bloom Box. Side note: that is the best founding story I’ve ever heard.

8). Political Connections: Former Secretary of State Colin Powell joined Bloom Energy’s board of directors last year reports 60 Minutes. Doerr himself is a member of the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board. If Bloom is looking for loans or loan guarantees from the federal government, as well as government customers, Powell and Doerr will be very handy.

9). Cali Subsidies: It’s been an easier sell to the tech companies in California because 20 percent of the cost of a Bloom Box is subsidized by the state. Add that to a 30 percent federal tax break, and the price is cut way down.

10). Magic Box: 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.

65 Responses to “10 Things to Know About Bloom Energy”

  1. Feels good but financially unatainable without taxing each of us.

    Free markets are the quickest and most cost-effective method of developing green, alternative energy resources; only realized through a deliberate, step-by-step method over a long period of time.

    In the meantime, continued development on sequestration and sensible incentives will get us there in plenty of time and with zero impact on “quality of life” standards; which at this time, seem to be the target of environmental extremists.

  2. I just hope bloom doesn’t (after raiding public coffers) in 10 yrs and announce they have units for sell to the average joe for 3 to 7 grand and all we have to do is buy gas, or coal, or oil, or electricity form tyhe existing power companies.
    People like colin powel are good for raiding picking up public monies (they ar epoliticians) but rich people just dopn’t have the public’s interest at heart.
    There is really no reason we the public should no have our own power plant, and shopuld have had 10 yrs ago. the only drawback like a leash has been big oil, big power companies, local, state, and federal agencies. Can yuo even dream of how much money a politician can make and does yearly keeping advances in electric motors/cars, power plants ect from reaching the average person at a rate they can afford. that’s why we have lawyers to keep u in our place and money in the politicians pockets

  3. ronnie

    When it comes to saving enegery several things come to mind. One is Gm’s killing of their first “Total Electric Car” which worked so well they would not even sell one of them and reportly crushed over 24,000 of them to ensure no one got the secret of an electric car that worked, and operated cheaply and cost effecient.
    The other is watching the Ford big whig try to expalin to a media expert that fords disel auto in Britian (even though it got about 48 miles per gallon operated smoothly, effeciently, and was ready for the american market Americans were not ready for disels yet. They operated too well and too inexpensive for the american market. Ford excs evidently have the oil company monkeys on their backs.

  4. ronnie

    I would not be interested in anything which requires me to fill r up at any station. I think this idea of the bloom system will work if he doesn’t kiss up to big oil. if he does forget it. the asians or germans will take up the slack and invent one which will.
    The problem with the 12.5 cents per kw per cost is not really a problem. I pay aboout 10.5 cents with my power company and i assure the cost per kwh is good. the problem is the meters used by power companies reads what ever number of kwh they wish. it can be fined tuned to fit your bank account plus. the sooner power companies are out of the picture the better.
    Lets cut their power off and the sooner the better. way too many people are ripped off by them

  5. I’m a fan of Bloom Energy. Having looked at their equipment, and how they are in production, I don’t think it will be too long before they are in residential and even VEHICULAR production mode. There are many players, richer than Bloom Energy, that have a lot to gain from this technology. The auto industry however, has much to lose.

    I think we will see a surge in natural gas prices, and being able to run electric vehicles, powered by natural gas, running with Bloom Boxes in them.

    If they need funding, its available everywhere.

    Jeff Sokol
    Alternative Fuel Social Network

  6. There are many benefits to Bloom’s solid oxide fuel cell technology if it succeeds. The distributed nature of the device could help foster adoption of electric vehicles since it could help offload some of the stress on the national grid.

    Bloom’s energy server can also help reduce the amount of fresh water used to generate electricity at centralized coal-fired plants especially for arid climates such as in the southwestern US.

    I think it is important that we look at the big picture of the value of technologies such as this instead of just focusing on whether its claims of GHG reduction are accurate.

  7. Katie – Bloom is developing a solid oxide fuel cell, long considered the most promising fuel cell because it doesn’t necessarily require expensive catalyst material, and because it runs on normal fuels such as natural gas, diesel fuel, etc. The problem with solid oxide fuel cells is their high temperature, a drawback that limits them to stationary applications where they have adequate space and aren’t powered on and off frequently. The challenge for Bloom remains getting the cost down. Currently they are charging $750,000 for a 100 KW system – typical conventional fossil fuel generating stations run about $1.0M per megawatt, or 1/8th that much. Questions remain as well regarding the durability, longevity, and costs for operations and maintenance. Fuel cells have always been problematic; if Bloom can address these challenges they will beat the odds, and a solid oxide technology is probably the best platform to try.

    Another question is regarding the reported two-way ability of Bloom’s fuel cell. Converting natural gas or diesel fuel into electricity is one thing, but can it really convert electricity back into fuel? What kind of fuel? Proton exchange membrane fuel cells, which convert hydrogen into electricity, can be designed with the capacity to convert the electricity back into hydrogen – but this is still a bug-ridden, fragile, expensive technology. Can the solid oxide fuel cell technology do this any easier? At the higher temperatures the conversion efficiency is much greater. The implications of success in building a two-way device are huge, since this would allow the fuel cell to convert intermittently generated surplus electrcity, from solar panels for example, into fuel for use later. In other words, Bloom, if they are successful, will not only address the challenge of clean distributed generation of electricity from fossil fuel, but also the challenge of storing surplus electricity generated from solar and wind source.

  8. Ahh…, Bill,
    all of us would like more data about this bloom box thing.
    What’s showing is kind of vague huh?
    And, there’s no IPO or stock symbol per all these years…?

    You notice Google, e-bay & Walmart are not being approached by media, techno-heads skeptics, Obama; or them not making any public announcements / comments or accolades…?


  9. Frank Grassi

    America needs another “next big thing” to come along to pull us out of this Great Depression.

    I am the inventor of a wind power system using static airfoils. Power Towers can demonstrate that wind power is the way forward and knowing the effort that you are placing on wind power, this project may interest you. I envision these twin slender skyscrapers size towers that can used as both habitable structures and power generating towers. They would have an airfoil shape and produce 50 MW of power. These slender towers would be wild life friendly and will use 1/10 the land needed by horizontal turbines. I have discovered a means of producing electric power from the wind that is many times more efficient then the horizontal turbines now in use. My patent pending wind machine will power the 21st. Century! Imagine a hybrid 50 MW wind/gas turbine power plant that can integrate a hydrogen enhanced natural gas as the fuel and is operational 100% of the time. There will not be need to cover landscape with thousands of ugly wind turbines. The cost of wind electric energy must be reduced to below $.03/ kWh. and made more reliable in order for wind power to become competitive with coal. My discovery is an innovative machine using static airfoils. Rotors produce power proportional to the diameter squared. My patent pending invention produces power from the wind not by increasing rotor diameter to immense sizes but by increasing the wind velocity, and since power is proportional to the cube of the velocity you immediately see the advantage. A wind tunnel test was done. This test will confirmed my calculations, and will provide data to direct my next steps. The importance of this project can not be minimized. Imagine how the world will change if the world knew what I know about wind power and its abundance.

  10. Okay kids…
    does anybody have anything on this premier Wednesday launch yet?
    I want to know more! Not to scrutinize though; I have many question.
    What I find so far is vague. Not much on future products aimed @ the retail consumer market yet, etc. So.., Colin Powel’s on board. Is the Military, (Navy vessels!) soon to follow? You know Disney’s going to jump @ this too!

    I wonder; how much fuel(s) are to be consumed by this thing to produce so-called cheap energy (& heat ?) quota isn’t disclosed. It’s supposed to halved by now standards of energy production consumption intake.

    Oxygen on one side & another gaseous fuel on the opposite side & directed into the electricity producing fuel cell elements..?


    Bottled? If so, a new facilitates platform / foundation / regulators / gauges / transmission conduits.
    Or filtered / scrubbed Oxygen via ambient air flow / forced fanned through a prioritized related ducted fan inlet …?

    The “other” fuel(s)…?
    Other than natural gas, there are variables on this too. Will these be bottled gasses as well? Will there be allowances for blended / multi mixes / blends? So again; another platform / foundation / regulators / gauges / transmission conduits. It would great if carbon monoxide / other green house gases could be filtered / scrubbed from the ambient air & used.

    Maybe; the possibilities to reduce carbon footprints are on the horizon with the introduction of this new thing and the technology / science spin offs. These new variables are infinite!
    But again…, good luck Bloom Box…

  11. Can we please stop using the word “play” to describe business? As in..”it’s far from a residential play”. Life and business are not games. Just say, it’s “a long way from having residential applications”. That’s much more human.

  12. Hummmm… Mack, I think the people & free market will not let that happen. Of course it will depend on Bloom Box being produce for the consumer retail market. Imagine just going to a place like Home Depot or such, picking out a unit, the guys fork lift it to your PU truck & off you go. It’s reasonable to think also that a certified / licensed electrician will have to install & hook the thing up to your home / other electrical system.

    Then I supposed to that product prioritized “special” ancillaries will have to be purchased to transition this task. Probably a new meter to transition the surplus flow to the “grid”. A tradesman to construct foundation / framework, or not, etc. So it will put some tradesmen / manufacturers to work after all. The “possible” domino effect is boggling.

    But, we’ll see.

  13. If these units were used to power homes it will be becuase the power companies will buy the units from Bloom and set them up to supply power to the grid and home owners will still be charged per kwh. The best we can hope for is that the fuel source used (natgas, bio, methane, solar) will allow utilities to lower their prices.

  14. Well… kids…, I’d like to be optimistic about this “new thing”. If it is what it should be, great! As for the power grid(s)…, if /when Bloom Boxes are marketed and sold retail, eventually placed in homes, buildings & other structures / applications, etc., there would be surpluses supplementing the established power generator facilities. Power companies would be buying these surpluses from us.

    That friends; would be a new turn for the better. But! With every new measure there will be a counter measure or an eventual drawback or unseen health risks. These may; or not be known for another many years or generations to come.

    But; like I said, I want to optimistic…
    This planet, us people and the rest of life on it need a break.

    Good luck Bloom Box

  15. The hilarious noise after the confirmatory test must be greater than ËUREKA”. I hope that the domestic types will be sold in Nigeria as soon as possible at affordable prices. Congratutions!

  16. ..if as they say,you can even run the b-box on solos,then how come the exteriors of the box are not solor filmed?..with the large size of the current test mdels it only makes sense.

  17. Sounds like hype to me. During the 60 Minutes segment I kept waiting for a number, the cost per Kilowatt hour. It never was mentioned. My research since then has not revealed that number either. I have a chart on my wall showing the cost per Kilowatt hour for existing and trial technologies for generating electricity. The majic number to beat is 8 cents per Kilowatt hour. That’s a tough assignment. Natural gas comes it at 6 cents. Coal is 5.5 cents. If this Bloom thing beats natgas by 50%, it will come in at 3 cents. 50% of neighborhoods in America already have natgas pipelines distributing to the house. Even local generation from one Bloom unit in a neighborhood is better than long distance transmission, where the average cost of electricity is increased by 7% through transmission costs. The numbers can add up both ways, so I guess we’ll just have to wait for Wednesday, when Bloom Energy will reveal all.

    • If it can heat my house for less than $300 a month, I’m in! Natural gas furnaces must burn up a LOT of gas to heat a home, my bills are insane and I’m only home 12 hours out of the day.

      • The current technology may not work well for your home? The current one are described as replacing base power. I would translate that to mean that there is no variable power. i.e. It uses the same fuel 24x7x365 whether you are home, lights are on, and AC or heat are on.

        I suspect that the home selling point will be that the unit can generate poluting hydrogen that can be stored and some other unit can burn for power.

    • IKnowNothing

      Yes, even some numbers showing the VOLUME of fuel (nat gas?) per KwH would be helpful.

      In my part of the world I can certainly see small neighborhood co-ops springing up and installing the larger version of this if the pricing were even the same as current rates to increase our consistency in service.

      A lot to be discovered soon but I’m encouraged by the direction. Here’s hoping its not a bunch of smoke.

  18. Hope it is true. Unfortunately all the informaion released are only good for the perfect scam.
    Celebrity,beutiful story from Mars project,referring to historic sucess and
    but there is nothing about the tech info.
    If you have basci chemistry knowledge, reaction between the gas phase and solid phases needs activated surface. Stacking the bloom chip together with the metal inserts, are you kidding me?
    For the greeen earth, I wish I am wrong.

  19. This is awesome indeed. I certainly hope that Bloom Energy is “for real” and not a bunch of hype. I certainly like what I read in this article:

    “Bloom Energy’s current product is a relatively inexpensive and versatile fuel cell that can power roughly 100 American homes. The devices cost $700,000 a piece an are roughly TWICE AS EFFICIENT AS NATURAL GAS POWER TRANSMITTED THROUGH THE GRID.”

    TWICE as efficient as natural gas power transmitted through the grid sounds revolutionary to me! I just hope that Bloom Energy is torture testing the heck out of their Bloom boxes and they can make them ultra reliable and long lasting. Of course, the more inexpensive the better.

    I think a $3,000 Bloom box in my house would be very do-able if you can also hook the house to the grid as a backup measure. The Bloom box is also going to need to have the capacity to “quick charge” the upcoming electric cars that are on the way. It would be awesome to be able to quick charge my Chevy Volt in just a few minutes someday. Even better would be putting a small Bloom box under the hood of my Chevy Volt as the range extender and yank out that old fashioned internal combustion engine!

    This Bloom Energy box could be great if natural gas prices stay low. I hear that America is pretty rich when it comes to natural gas these days because there’s new methods of getting it out of the ground and there’s a bunch of places in Pennsylvania and New York where there’s at least 100 years worth of supply underground.

    If Bloom Energy’s technology is ultra reliable and cheap it’s going to freak out the electric utilities for sure. But … that’s America. When better technology comes along, it’s “out with the old, in with the NEW”.

    Man, I hope these Bloom boxes aren’t just hype and they really are revolutionary. We need some huge breakthroughs in the next 10 years. America needs another “next big thing” to come along to pull us out of this god awful recession that Wall Street caused.

  20. Christopher K Collins

    Just a few hours after watching this on 60 mins, good job. I looked and said to my self ‘the only way someone would release this was if they already had something similar’. Anything as marketable or well connected (eg. Powell and 60 minutes) has yet to be heard of by my virgin ears. Military finally sells what its always known for the consumer, ha. My fear is that there is a better way to do this and we all jump on the bandwagon via federal support only to find a better solution or this is the best way to do this and we allow energy monopolies to absorb the technology and nothing changes for the consumer and remains to allow the free market to reinforce an elitist power structure, that can be brought to its knees by social abundant energy. People who want to profit from cheap abundant energy are far more dangerous than ‘acid rain’ from the skies. Let my skin and my children’s skin melt off before I see a world controlled by supply and demand curves or the children who feed of profits gained by exploiting resources.

    • …oh boy,mr.’let my childrens skin melt off’..what a looney,babbleing a-hole….NOW,my much’fuel’ does it take to create the electricity?analogy,is it equel to a 2000wt honda generator in fuel,in,out,conversion?

    • I’m sure the DOD is planning to buy a bunch of them. Modern datacenters need these kind of distributed power systems for reliability in case of power grid failure, and the USA military has already invested in fuel cells for that purpose. Expect the military to be their first major customer.

      • And when the DOD does I hope it doesnt cause another consumer pushback like it did the 100mpg diesel motorcycle by Hayes Diversified Technologies that misses thier projected 06 consumer release date indefinitly by the backlogged military orders.

  21. Good overview for those who don’t know the bloom story up till now.

    The real take away is the bloom fuel cell is completely different in materials technology to what we are used to seeing in fuel cells, which is a bunch of touchy vapor deposited reactive metals like platinum. Expensive and hard to keep running. If you have seen other fuel cells there is way more complexity and plumbing than with the bloom. Yes, everyone and his brother has been dinking with fuel cells for the last 103 years, but no one has proposed a loaf of bread sized. I mean, look at the Clear fuel cell, its like the size of a fridge. Something radically different is going with their technology. I’m not drinking their kool-aid, but c’mon. all the GEs toshibas siemens aren’t anywhere close to this. This is pretty amazing. Of course they will do an IPO. More power to ’em and can I get in the primary offering?