Another Silicon Valley start-up out to solve the world’s energy problems, promising “clean, reliable, affordable energy anywhere.” Sounds good, hope they can deliver.
Today’s energy-problem-solver is Bloom Energy. The company has been around since 2001, quietly developing what it claims is a new fuel-cell technology, much of it on the dime of Silicon Valley venture capitalists like John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Sunday, television news show 60 Minutes provided the first public look at the company and its technology. Today the company held a news conference officially unveiling its product.
The basic product is a solid oxide fuel cell that produces power by reacting natural gas with oxygen without using combustion. The process yields water and carbon dioxide in addition to power. The water is reused within the system, the carbon dioxide emitted is less than traditional power plants would emit generating similar amounts of power.
Here are some links, beginning with 60 Minutes and the buzz before the official release:
- 60 Minutes, “The Bloom Box“
- FT Energy Source, “A lot of guesswork about Bloom Energy’s fuel cells“.
- Fast Company, “eBay Opens Up About Installing Bloom Boxes and Their Room for Improvement“.
- New York Times, “Bloom Energy claims new fuel cell technology“.
- Forbes.com, “What Bloom Energy needs to prove“.
Samples from post-press conference coverage (which is substantial):
- FoxNews.com, “Can this object save the world?“
- Fast Company, “Is the Bloom Box Energy Server the Future of Plug and Play Electricity?“
- National Geographic News, “Bloom Box: Secret App may be Key to Tiny Energy Plant.”
- Green, Inc., “A secretive start-up raises the curtain.”
- ADDED LATER: Gizmodo, “Giz Explains: Fuel Cells and Bloom Energy’s Miracle Box” (Thx to Chris Masse).
Bloom isn’t the first Silicon Valley-linked company seeking to solve the world’s energy problems. In fact, that’s a fairly crowded space these days, with Google.org and A Better Place and Tesla Motors just a few of the companies making techie-based forays into the world of energy.
Or, a less glamorous example, Range Fuels, a biofuels-based company funded in part by Vinod Khosla, former founding CEO of Sun Microsystems and currently head of Khosla Ventures and a general partner with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (the same venture capital firm that employs Bloom Energy supporter John Doerr). Range Fuels, which peppers its website with quotes from people like Mahatma Ghandi and Albert Einstein, has burned through hundreds of millions of dollars – much of it in the form of government grants – so far unsuccessfully pursuing the goal of commercial production of cellulosic ethanol. Robert Rapier delivers a run down on the company at R-squared Energy Blog, and it isn’t pretty.
Bloom Energy does have working products in use by customers – companies like Google, FedEx, and eBay – so at least that much is real. But, of course, fuel cells have been around for a long time. The real question is whether they can produce power at a low enough cost over the lifespan of a unit. They claim average costs around 8 to 10 cents per kwh, which is competitive relative to retail prices for grid-connected commercial and residential consumers in the United States (rates average about 10 to 11 cents per kwh). If that claim is substantiated after the company moves the product into commercial scale production and widespread use, then the company will be winner.