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Bloom unveils 'breakthrough' fuel cells

Silicon Valley, US, February 25, 2010

Silicon Valley start-up Bloom Energy has unveiled a new fuel cell technology that promises to deliver affordable and clean energy.

'Bloom fuel cell technology has the potential to revolutionise the energy industry,' California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said while introducing Bloom founder K R Sridhar.

'He is someone shaping the future of energy not just for California but for the world,' Schwarzenegger said.

Bloom servers are 60 percent cleaner than coal-fired power plants and produce reliable energy on-site instead of having electricity routed through wires from far-off generation plants, Schwarzenegger said.

The inspiration for the fuel cell is rooted in Sridhar's decade as a university professor working on ways to sustain a human colony on Mars.

The cells are described as being twice as efficient as the US electricity grid, meaning it takes half the fuel to produce the same amount of energy.

Electricity generated by Bloom servers costs about nine cents per kilowatt/hour as opposed to the 14 or 15 cents typically charged here by utilities.

The cost of the servers is recovered in three to five years by energy savings, according to Sridhar.

The servers are guaranteed for 10 years. Sridhar would not disclose the lifespans of the fuel cells.

Former secretary of state Colin Powell, a Bloom board member and retired general, said: 'This is a breakthrough. Sooner or later it is going to be in homes all across America. Think what it will ultimately do for humankind.'

Questions, however, remain about the long-term adoption and viability of a technology that has been around for decades but has yet to see mass market commercial applications.   

Bloom's solid oxide fuel cell has managed to attract powerful early adopters, including Google, eBay, Coca Cola, Wal-Mart Stores, FedEx Corp and Staples.

Fuel cells are not a new concept and often have been touted as the ultimate clean technology to power vehicles.

Most major automakers have spent billions of dollars in researching a hydrogen-powered fuel cell for vehicles, tempted by the idea of a car that uses no gasoline and emits only water vapor.

That research is now mostly on the back burner, given the expense, transportation issues and volatility of hydrogen gas.   

Bloom's energy generating boxes cost $700,000 to $800,000 and run on a variety of fuels, including natural gas. Each of energy server provides 100 kilowatts of electricity -- enough to power about 100 average US homes -- with roughly the footprint of a parking space.

Bloom's fuel cell works by converting air and a fuel source -- such as natural gas to a range of biogases -- into electricity through an electrochemical process.

Even running on natural gas, the systems are over 65 percent cleaner than a typical coal-fired power plant, the company said.
   
After eight years of development, Bloom Energy unveiled the fuel cell at a media briefing that featured political and business heavyweights including Google's founder Larry Page, Wal-Mart's chief operating officer Bill Simon, and Ebay's chief executive John Donahue.   

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell is a board member of Bloom, which has raised over $400 million from investors including Silicon Valley powerhouse Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, as well as Morgan Stanley, NEA, and Northgate Capital.   

Sridhar, a former Nasa scientist, said the 'Bloom Energy Server,' as he calls it, is different from hydrogen fuel cells as it uses lower cost materials, has greater efficiency and is more easily deployed and maintained.

'The core of our technology is simply sand that is available in plenty,' Sridhar said, showing off a small photograph-sized plate.   

EBay chief executive John Donahue said the company, which is using five of the Bloom boxes at its headquarters in San Jose, decided on the product as it made economic sense.

'We are talking to Bloom for other facilities,' he said.

Google founder Larry Page said he was a big supporter of the technology. The search giant was Bloom's first customer in July 2008 and uses the fuel cell to power a building on its main campus in Mountain View, California, a facility that includes an experimental data center.

'I would love to see us having a whole data center running on this,' Page said. - Agencies




Tags: power | bloom | fuel cells |

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