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The Largest Bloom Energy Installation Now at Adobe

We haven’t heard all that much from fuel cell maker Bloom Energy after it had the most high-profile launch in greentech history back in February. But on Monday night, the eight-year-old company, which has raised at least $400 million, is announcing its largest single installation to date on the roof of Adobe’s (s ADBE) headquarters in San Jose, Calif. The dozen fuel cells will be one of the first to run on biogas (methane from organic waste), making them carbon free (eBay is also running its Bloom boxes on biogas).

Bloom boxes look like industrial-sized refrigerators, and the fuel cell (like a chemical battery) sucks up oxygen on one side and fuel (natural gas or biogas) on the other to produce power. Ceramic discs stacked together interspersed with metal plates of a metal alloy provide the secret sauce of the “magic box.” Bloom Energy CEO K.R. 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 and decided to reverse the process.

Fuel cells have been under development and far too pricey for many years, and Bloom boxes seem like just a slightly more efficient version of what’s already out there. Despite some of the press articles written at the time of launch, Bloom boxes won’t likely be available for residential homes for a very long time (if ever), and Bloom will also take many years to crack into markets that don’t have state fuel cell subsidies.

Adobe has installed 12 Bloom boxes on the fifth floor of its West Tower, and Adobe says the boxes will power close to a third of its headquarters’ electricity needs. Adobe has long been trying to green its campus, turning it into a LEED-certified building, and also installing wind turbines from Windspire on the roof earlier this year.

Of course, the sizable Adobe installation is in California, where Bloom won over its first customers like Google (s GOOG) and eBay (s EBAY), and will no doubt be winning over the bulk of it customers because of state subsidies that offer $2,500 per kilowatt for fuel cells. Each Bloom box is 100 kW, and with California subsidies, over a 10-year life span, a Bloom box can deliver electricity for $0.08 to $0.10/kWh (when running as base-load for 24 hours a day). That’s competitive to average retail U.S. electricity costs of roughly $0.11/kWh. At that price, Bloom says its boxes have a payback period of 3-5 years.

That low per-kWh price for Bloom is also assuming a natural gas contract of  $7/mmBTU. Adobe will be buying biogas, which is methane from organic waste (landfills and manure), and Adobe’s economics will be a bit different. (I would guess more expensive.) Biogas isn’t all that easy to get ahold of.

Without the state subsidy, Bloom generated electricity would cost closer to $0.13/kWh to $0.14/kWh, with about $0.09/kWh from system cost and about $0.05/kWh coming from fuel cost, reported Lux Research earlier this year. Each Bloom box itself costs between $700,000 to $800,000, so $7,000 to $8,000 per kW. Not cheap by any means.

Here’s a bunch of my previous posts on Bloom Energy:

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Image courtesy of Adobe.