Trend: Bloom Energy's electricity producing fuel cell device, which gives the alternative energy industry a new major player, is now for sale after months of testing by several well-known businesses.
It's too early to tell if the Bloom box is a game changer or a dead end, but the early reviews are impressive. The U.S. has plenty of cheap natural gas and an ever-increasing need for constant electricity production. Reducing dirty coal power and dependence on hostile oil producers would be a significant step towards energy independence.
Bloom Energy Corp., one of Silicon Valley's most secretive startups, unveiled on Wednesday [Feb 24] its long-awaited "power plant in a box," a collection of fuel cells that the company says can provide clean electricity to homes, office buildings - even whole villages in the developing world.
The Bloom Energy Server, a smooth metal box the size of a pickup truck, can generate electricity from multiple fuels while producing relatively few greenhouse gas emissions. With government subsidies factored in, power from the server costs less than power from the grid. Unlike other fuel cells, Bloom's is made mostly of sand, with no platinum or other precious metals thrown in as catalysts. And unlike solar panels and wind turbines, each server can produce the same amount of energy day and night for years on end, according to the company. The process is twice as efficient as burning natural gas. "This is not when the sun shines, this is not when the wind blows - this is base load, nonstop," said K.R. Sridhar, Bloom's co-founderand chief executive officer. The server, he said, could change the energy industry in much the same way that cell phones changed communications, decentralizing the generation of power.
Sridhar introduced the device, for years a subject of intense speculation within the green-tech industry, before a large and rapturous crowd of politicians, press and Silicon Valley luminaries, eager to see the first product from a company that has landed roughly $400 million in venture capital investments. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hailed the server as a potential revolution. Sen. Dianne Feinstein sent the company, founded in 2001, congratulations via a video message.
More important, some of the business executives in attendance had already bought the servers, which cost $700,000 to $800,000 apiece. Bloom, based in Sunnyvale, counts among its customers the Coca-Cola Co., Cox Enterprises, FedEx Corp. and Google Inc., all of whom sent executives to speak at Wednesday's public premiere. Online marketplace eBay Inc. liked the product enough that it hosted the event at its San Jose campus, where five servers have been running since July.