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Clean Power Bloom Energy modular energy servers at Adobe

Published on February 28th, 2012 | by Glenn Meyers

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Attractive Options for Modular Energy Architecture: the Bloom Energy Server

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February 28th, 2012 by
 

Bloom Energy modular energy servers at Adobe

Bloom Energy Server provides continuous onsite electricity from wide range of renewable or traditional fuel sources.

 
Hardly more than two years ago in Sunnyvale, CA, Bloom Energy Corporation, founded in 2001, announced its commitment to changing the way people generate and consume energy. To accomplish this, it offered the Bloom Energy Server, a solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) technology reputed to offer “a cleaner, more reliable, and more affordable alternative to both today’s electric grid as well as traditional renewable energy sources.”

In attendance at this event held at eBay Inc. headquarters were former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, General Colin Powell, and several of its early customers, including Cox Enterprises, Bank of America, eBay, and Google, among others. The company continues moving forward, along with its customers. Earlier this month, Cox Enterprises announced the installation of five fuel cells at its San Diego subsidiary. The fuel cells join nine previous alternative energy projects in California. Combined, Cox’s 14 alternative energy installations in California are preventing some 15,500 tons of carbon emissions from entering the environment.

Bloom’s fuel cell technology is fundamentally different from the legacy hydrogen fuel cells most people are familiar with. The Bloom Energy Server is distinct in four primary ways: it uses lower cost materials, provides unmatched efficiency in converting fuel to electricity, has the ability to run on a wide range of renewable or traditional fuels, and is more easily deployed and maintained.

More important, unlike traditional renewable energy technologies, like solar and wind, which are intermittent, Bloom’s energy server can provide renewable power 24/7.

Specifically, each Bloom Energy Server – roughly the size of a parking space – provides 100 kilowatts (kW) of power. Translated in terms of capacity, each system can generate enough power for approximately 100 average U.S. homes, or a small office building. Modular architecture allows customers to start small and “pay as they grow,” states Bloom.

Customers buying Bloom’s systems are told to expect a 3-5 year payback on their capital investment from the energy cost savings.

“Bloom Energy is dedicated to making clean, reliable energy affordable for everyone in the world,” said Dr. KR Sridhar, principal co-founder and CEO of Bloom Energy. “We believe that we can have the same kind of impact on energy that the mobile phone had on communications.  Just as cell phones circumvented landlines to proliferate telephony, Bloom Energy will enable the adoption of distributed power as a smarter, localized energy source. Our customers are the cornerstone of that vision and we are thrilled to be working with industry leading companies to lower their energy costs, reduce their carbon footprint, improve their energy security, and showcase their commitment to a better future.“

History & How it Works

Bloom Energy can trace its roots to the NASA Mars space program. For NASA, Sridhar and his team were charged with building technology to help sustain life on Mars, using solar energy and water to produce air (for breathing) and fuel (for transportation). They soon realized that their technology could have an even greater impact here on Earth and began work on what would become the Bloom Energy Server.

The Bloom Energy Server converts air and nearly any fuel source – ranging from natural gas to a wide range of biogases – into electricity via a clean electrochemical process, not combustion.

This animation on how a solid oxide fuel cell works is useful. We look forward to hearing much more about advances in renewable energy from Bloom Energy.

Photos: Bloom Energy

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About the Author

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers is editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributor to CleanTechnica, and founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.



  • Thetaxkiller

    Well there is no question these boxes are not really so great at making cheap energy but then consider the inventor. KR is a former NASA Scientist tasked with coming up with being able to make electricity from fuel and get H20 as a by product. In space there is not much concern over cost the concern is over weight, space and preserving life. The ultimate potential use for a system that can produce energy off the grid is for the 2 billion people who still live by the sun and have no light at night nor access to a grid from which to get electricity. A Bloom box may not be the right answer due to the incredible cost but with government and corporate subsidization if they can create further breakthroughs to lower the cost more competitive to the grid then I think this makes for a very responsible partnership between the private sector and the public.

  • James Van Damme

    If you buy a 1 kilowatt (1-1/2 HP) engine-generator that ran on natural gas, what would it cost you? Somewhat less than $8,000, I’d guess. Bloom has a ways to go. And there’s nothing “renewable” about it.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Bloom is 100kW. A quick check on the web gets me a 100kW natural gas generator for about $24k.

      If the Bloom is $750k one has to ask what their customers are smoking.

      Bloom can’t approach the price of grid power. And if you can get backup generation for 3% of the price of a Bloomer.

      Seems like we might be missing some factual info here.

      And this claim –

      “The Bloom Energy Server converts air and nearly any fuel source – ranging from natural gas to a wide range of biogases – into electricity via a clean electrochemical process, not combustion.”

      A fuel cell run on hydrogen produces electricity and water (H2O).

      The Bloomer is running on natural gas – basically methane (CH4). Where does the carbon go?

    • Glenn Meyers

      Think about methanol instead

      • Bob_Wallace

        Methanol (CH3OH)?

        OK, where does the carbon go?  And where is the supply of “clean” methanol coming from?

        Just ran across this…

        “(FedEx in Oakland), the day Bloom installed their boxes, each one costing $700-800,000….

        One reason the companies have signed up is that in California 20 percent of the cost is subsidized by the state, and there’s a 30 percent federal tax break because it’s a “green” technology. In other words: the price is cut in half.

        Four units have been powering a Google datacenter for 18 months. They use natural gas, but half as much as would be required for a traditional power plant. ”
        http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-18560_162-6221135.html?pageNum=3&tag=contentMain;contentBody
        Natural gas is at a historical and unsustainable low price.  I see
        nothing about these things being run on renewable fuel.

        And from another site…

        ”  Each “server” produces 100 kW of power, consists of thousands of
        fuel cells, costs between $700,000 and $800,000, and pays for itself
        in three to 5 years based on an energy cost of 8 to 9 cents per kW
        hour.

        Bloom’s device generates electricity at 50% to 55% conversion
        efficiency. In comparison, solar generally produces power at between
        10% to 15% efficiency. But unlike solar panels, the Bloom Energy
        Server produces CO2 as a byproduct. According to the Energy
        Collective, “CO2 emissions when running on natural gas would be just
        under 0.8 pounds/kWh, which compares favorably to electricity from
        central station coal-fired plants (2 lbs/kWh) or natural gas plants
        (roughly 1.3 lbs/kWh) and the national average for on-grid electricity
        (around 1.3-1.5 lbs/kWh).” If the box runs on landfill gas or biogas,
        it produces net zero carbon emissions. ”

        http://www.fastcompany.com/1561844/how-does-the-bloom-box-energy-server-work

        The efficiency comparison with solar panels is, of course,
        meaningless.  The two technologies  can be legitimately compared based
        on $/kWh, CO2 production, and “availability”.  But since the input
        fuel for solar is free the efficiency of a solar panel is meaningless.

        What do we know?  Blooms are apparently more efficient than combined
        cycle natural gas plants.  But they are apparently a lot more
        expensive.  Don’t forget, taxpayer dollars are paying half the cost.
        At full price they probably couldn’t compete with grid power.

        If we had ample landfill/biogas then Blooms (and combined cycle gas
        plants) could be carbon neutral.  But we don’t yet have enough biogas
        in the pipes to make Blooms anything other than CO2 producers.

  • jburt56

    Any word on how many MW Bloom has sold?

    • Glenn Meyers

      check the site’s press releases

  • David

    Do we have an idea of the cost of a 100KW unit? Also what it would cost in terms of natural gas usage? I suspect the problem is still the cost factor – and that we will not see these units appearing in residential neighborhoods until the cost has dropped pretty dramatically. I realize it is early days for this technology – so not trying to be negative – just curious to see if the numbers are improving. David.

    • Dcard88

      Last I heard it was $750K

    • Glenn Meyers

      I’m inclined to agree with you. They have launched working with large corporations that can afford the capital outlay.

  • JCN

    ‘scuse me: “conventional”.

  • Jcn

    Thanks for the interesting story. A little more writing care would be nice: “…produce air to breath and fuel…”

    Also “…, unlike traditional renewable energy”. There’/s nothing “traditional” about renewable energy. Eating turkey at Thanksgiving is a tradition. Making frat pledges drink themselves to unconsciousness is a tradition. Energy development isn’t like these mindless activities. You want “convention.”

    • Glenn Meyers

      Take up the writing issues with Bloom’s media department – and the use of traditional. Thanks.

  • Matt Grason

    Either I’m confused or discussions of fuel cells are often deliberately ambiguous. They’re not analogous to other renewables like wind and solar because the fuel the cells run on may or may not be carbon-based. I’m guessing what’s not said here is that, right now, these fuel cells are being fueled with natural gas. Am I right?

    • Glenn Meyers

      Take a look at their technology. Bloom can use either natural gas or biogas, the kind found from organic waste.

      • Bob_Wallace

        But what are they actually using?

        Sure, the gas could from from organic waste but that’s not what is happening, is it?

        We could run these things on unicorn farts, if we could only capture a few unicorns.

        • Dcard88

          short term solution for sure. Hopefully the batteries and solar systems coming in the next decade will make them obsolete.

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