Archive for Bloom Box
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Like shootin’ fish in a barrel. Me, six days ago:
Prediction: Tom will state that Bloom Energy changes everything!
Today from Friedman:
Several months ago, though, Sridhar took me into the parking lot behind Google’s Silicon Valley headquarters and showed me the inside of one of his Bloom Boxes, the size of a small shipping container. Inside were stacks of solid oxide fuel cells, stored in cylinders, and all kinds of whiz-bang parts that I did not understand.
[ . . . ]
Our politics has gotten so impossible lately, too many Americans have stopped dreaming.
Here’s my latest scorecard on Tommy’s ideas:
- Free trade!
- Invade the oil cartels! (aka, Suck On This)
- Free trade, except for Silicon Valley!
Actually, he writes something even more inane today:
All I know is this: If we put a simple price on carbon, these new technologies would have a chance to blossom
There is already a simple price on carbon and TF knows it. Unfortunately, it is mispriced and artificial because of various policies, taxes and subsidies that will continue because there is an army of lobbyists screaming OMG! REAL CARBON PRICING IS THE END OF CIVILIZATION, and they know they have pet-dog pundits like Friedman who will provide the cover they need.
Today was Bloom Energy’s big media extravaganza and it seems like they were aiming for something on the order of what Apple or Microsoft would try to pull off. The stage was shared by big name politicians (Schwarzenegger and Powell) the online gods (Google and eBay), the movers and shakers in the investor class (Kleiner Perkings Caulfield & Byers and Morgan Stanley) and an impressive array of mega-brand customers (FedEx, Coca-Cola, Walmart, Staples and Bank of America).
Generally speaking this is all great stuff for those of us in the ceramics business. Incredible, really.
But what did anybody actually learn? Maybe that Bloom has a great marketing team? But, we already knew that was true based on Sunday’s exposure, courtesy of 60 Minutes.
What new information did we get about Bloom’s technology/engineering achievements and business plan? Not much.
It’s one thing to try to throw a coming-out party like Apple would. It’s another thing to pull it off when you have no track record of actually bringing an insanely great product to market at a price people are willing to pay, all while beating your competitors to the punch.
Some of the technology questions may be relatively easy. One expert tells me the ceramic electrolyte layer is is probably yttria-stabilized zirconia (YSZ), the green “ink” is NiO-YSZ serving as the anode (NexTech already offers an ink like this) and the black “ink” is a cathode layer made of lanthanum strontium manganite (LSM). What’s less clear is how Bloom solved stack expansion and seal problems that plague other SOFC makers. (Solved them in the sense that these units will perform reliably for years and years.)
But, Jonathan Fahey at Forbes, gets closer to the heart of the matter:
So while Bloom Energy may have some very promising technology to show off, we almost certainly will hear that its business hinges on a plan to lower the cost of its fuel cell by some large amount in some short period of time. It could be that Bloom Energy has the money and the brains to pull it off. Maybe it has already pulled it off. But if that business plan sounds familiar, it’s because that is the same refrain heard from solar companies, biofuels companies and fuel cell makers around the world.
[. . .]
It’s difficult to design components that can survive for decades in those conditions, especially the ancillary components that take the electricity out of the cell - for cheap. Then there’s the bugaboo of many a clean tech company: Designing a manufacturing process that can produce enough high quality devices to push costs down.
United Technologies produces a phosphoric acid fuel cell commercially and is working on a number of other fuel cell programs. Its fuel cell sells for $4,500 per kilowatt, and the company says it needs to get to $2,500 before it can be a real success
“We’ve figured out the durability problems,” says Mike Brown, a vice president at UTC Power, the United Technologies unit that makes fuel cells. “We haven’t figured out the cost problem yet.”
Fahey thinks that the unsubsidized cost of Bloom’s systems is about $9,000-$10,000 per kilowatt, so its not clear why Bloom’s units would be financially sucessful when UTC Power is struggling.
Via a note from Kristen Brosnan, I learned that Lesley Stahl and her 60 Minutes crew at CBS are doing a big story tomorrow (Feb. 21) on Bloom Energy and the apparent success of their solid oxide fuel cell system that has been packaged into what the company is marketing as a “Bloom Box.” Click on the picture above for a promo video.
Apparently, Bloom has moved testing out of the lab some time ago and has found success in testing five of the appliances on eBay’s corporate offices The CBS web site says:
John Donahoe, CEO of eBay, confirms Bloom Boxes were installed at his corporate campus nine months ago. The company says the boxes already saved them over $100,000 in electricity bills. “It’s been very successful thus far. [The Bloom Boxes] have done what they said they would do,” says Donahoe. The five boxes are able to produce five times as much electricity as the 3,248 solar panels that eBay installed on its campus roofs, says the CEO. “The footprint for Bloom is much more efficient,” he tells Stahl.
The CBS website report that Bloom Energy says each box could support 100 residences and cost $700,000-$800,000, and that a single-family unit might be available in another five years for an estimated $3,000.
The 60 Minutes story is something of a teaser. Bloom Energy, formerly known as Ion Technologies America, for quite some time has been advertising a “countdown” to a heretofore secret corporate unveiling.
I’ll try to get some reaction from the participants at ACerS’ upcoming Materials Challenges in Energy 2010 conference that starts Sunday night in Cocoa Beach.
… adding, if you want to know more about Bloom, and the role their investment partners at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, it is definitely worth checking out Jon Gertner’s Oct. 2008 long article written for the New York Times Sunday Magazine. The link takes you to the part of the article to gets the deepest into Bloom, but the whole article is a good read.
… also adding two additional data points. First, a post at earth2tech has some more information on what’s going to happen at Bloom’s big event Wednesday. More, importantly, there is some interesting information revealed about Bloom’s vision of its SOFC that came out in an October interview by Alison van Diggelen (Fresh Dialogues) in which Bloom Energy founder KR Sridhar expands on the Bloom Box’s potential as a generic hydrogen-creation machine. Here is the payoff in the exchange:
Alison: And I also understand part of the Bloom box is splitting out the hydrogen?
KR: That’s an option. People always ask, ‘it’s electricity – is it a fuel cell for the car?’ The answer is no. This is for stationary uses like buildings and houses.
So then the question is, you have a big transportation infrastructure that requires fuel for that. Transportation can potentially go in two directions in the future: one is a hydrogen infrastructure for the car, the other one is an electrical infrastructure. We’re already getting a lot more comfortable with plug-in hybrids… which is right on the horizon.
[. . .]
So, our device can either produce the electricity that will charge the car or provide you hydrogen if the transportation becomes hydrogen based. So we’ve sort of become the gas station for the transportation industry.
Alison: Your vision of the future with this KR…has been described as a refrigerator-sized device.
KR: That’s the ultimate vision. How we get there I cannot describe right now.
Alison: So that’s maybe, what 20 years off…who knows?
KR: Silicon Valley time, ultimate is within a decade, right?
Alison: So it’s all within a decade.
KR: Right, right.
For additional recent CTT stories on SOFCs, see