Bloom Box fuel cell uses secret formula to produce clean energy

a lotus flower used as photo illustration for Bloom Box fuel cell

The Bloom Box fuel cell is being used by companies like Google and eBay to save hundreds of thousands of dollars on energy costs. matze_ott/Flickr photo.

The Bloom Box is a fuel cell that generates electricity from oxygen and natural gas. Bloom Energy’s Bloom Box was featured on “60 Minutes” Sunday, a few days ahead of the company’s formal launch on Sept. 1. Bloom Energy claims that the Bloom Box is an “energy server” that creates clean, reliable and affordable power. It’s a stand-alone unit that some major corporations are already using to supplement their energy needs. Bloom Energy believes the Bloom Box can replace the power plants and transmission lines of the energy grid. However, like other fuel cells developed thus far, the price has to come way down before the Bloom Box can be considered practical.

Bloom Box saves eBay $100,000 in 9 months

The Bloom Box has been 10 years in the making. In its “60 Minutes” feature on Bloom Energy, CBS News reports that company founder K.R. Stridhar has raised about $400 million for the technology. The Bloom Box holds a stack of ceramic discs coated with secret formulas on each side. A fuel source like natural gas goes in one side and oxygen on the other. The disk creates an electro-chemical reaction between the two elements to produce power. The taller the stack, the more power is generated. A Bloom Box with 64 disks will power a Starbucks. Twenty companies in California are using Bloom Boxes, where a 20 percent state subsidy along with a 30 percent federal tax break for clean energy cuts the $800,000 price in half. John Donahoe, eBay’s CEO, told CBS News that five Bloom Boxes running on carbon-neutral bio-gas from landfill waste, installed nine months ago, have saved more than $100,000 in electricity costs.

Will the electrical grid go the way of the mainframe?

Stridhar told Newsweek that the Bloom Box could replace the power plants and transmission lines of the electrical grid like personal computers replaced mainframes. He said companies like Google, a Bloom Energy customer, have small servers ganged up in groups of thousands to create huge data centers. Bloom Boxes can be clustered the same way to create energy farms. Stridhar admitted that subsidies are the only thing making the Bloom Box fly now. But economies of scale could bring the price down to about a $3,000 investment for a household installation. He said every doubling in volume brings a 10-to-15 percent reduction in cost.

The fuel cell  market

The Bloom Box appears as demand for fuel cells is expected to accelerate. A report on the global fuel cell market by GBI Research published on said that advancing technology and increasing demand will bring the cost of fuel cells down. The price will allow fuel cells to become commercialized by 2013. A 2008 report by Freedonia Group said that U.S. commercial fuel cell demand will expand nearly sixfold through 2012 to $975 million. Using fuel cells for electric power generation was expected to grow 41 percent a year in that time frame.

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