Is Bloom Energy’s Fuel Cell Miracle For Real?

| Saturday February 20th, 2010 | 158 Comments

UPDATE 3: click here to read our thoughts on the hype – even if Bloom isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, they’ve set something good in motion

UPDATE 2: click here to read our breaking report from Wednesday’s standing room only press briefing on the Bloom Box

UPDATE: We’re still short on the real details (stay tuned till Wednesday to find those out), but scroll down to the bottom to watch the 60 minutes clip which gives a decent introduction. Leave a comment if there’s something specific you want asked.

The interwebs are aflutter with excitement over Bloom Energy’s top secret “Bloom Box” fuel cell system finally revealing itself. For those who haven’t already checked it out (the website is still just a marquee), the company boasts that their systems could literally replace the electricity grid with dispersed, clean, and easy to maintain fuel cell boxes running on a variety of fuels, water, and oxygen, with no combustion at all. Sound like hype? Their PR team has certainly been working in overdrive…

The scoop has been leaking for a day now on the CBS website, and on others including Fortune and GreenTechMedia. However, Sunday night will be your first chance to hear real details about the Bloom Box when 60 Minutes airs a segment that with either knock your socks off, raise a lot of eyebrows, or both.

Bloom has already listed almost two dozen large companies who have been stealth testers of the mysterious device including eBay, who claim to have already saved $100,000 and such perennial sustainability favorites as Google and WalMart.

Exactly how it works is among the surprises we’re supposed to get on Sunday. (edit – looks like we’re waiting till Wednesday) Hank Green suggests that the device could be installed in homes, generating both electricity and heat, which would result in big efficiency gains. Commenters on Reddit point out that the real savings may lie in avoiding transmission and maintenance costs with a machine that’s much simpler to handle than a full fledged power plant. Although the boxes cost a lot (up to $800K), the amount of power they allegedly put out more than makes up for it.

Why is this a big deal? How do they differ from existing fuel cell backup systems already in place? Has the internet been duped by one of the more successful publicity campaigns in recent memory? It’s all TBA in the next few days…

Check out 60 Minutes on Sunday night for the sneak preview, then leave your questions here. On Wednesday morning, 3p’s Jim Witkin will attend the official unveiling in San Jose along with General Colin Powell, Arnold Schwarzenegger, big shots from Kleiner Perkins and more. We’ll be able to ask some key questions and will publish the juicy details as soon as we’ve got ‘em.



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Making Money by Giving Your Product Away

Steve Puma | Friday February 19th, 2010 | 5 Comments

cory-doctorow-cc.jpgI was reading Cory Vanderpool’s article, prompted by an article in The Atlantic about how the Grateful Dead discovered innovative marketing secrets almost 40 years before they became mainstream, and I wanted to add some of my own thoughts about one marketing method that is hotly contested today: giving away content and making money off of ancillary items.

While some large organizations, such as the mainstream music and publishing industries, continue to sue their most loyal customers, the Dead were one of the first to realize that huge sums of money could be made if you simply cater to your core audience and give them what they want.

From The Atlantic article: They famously permitted fans to tape their shows, ceding a major revenue source in potential record sales. According to Barnes, the decision was not entirely selfless: it reflected a shrewd assessment that tape sharing would widen their audience, a ban would be unenforceable, and anyone inclined to tape a show would probably spend money elsewhere, such as on merchandise or tickets. The Dead became one of the most profitable bands of all time.

The story also points to something that John Perry Barlow, Dead lyricist and founding member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote for Wired magazine in 1994.  The concept, which goes directly against traditional business models, is based on the notion that it is not scarcity that creates value: “in the information economy, the best way to raise demand for your product is to give it away. What people today are beginning to realize is what became obvious to us back thenthe important correlation is the one between familiarity and value, not scarcity and value.”

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The Next Urban Development Frontier: On the Water?

| Friday February 19th, 2010 | 3 Comments

ban-startup-friday
In our increasingly crowded world, there are many schools of thought as to how and where to fit all those people. Where do they live? Where is their food grown? And particularly vexing, where do they work? Smart urban design is fast becoming a must, around the world.

You could just keep building upward, sprawling outward, or even building underground, but what about on the water?

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A Greener Olympics: Coke’s Green 2010 Winter Olympic Games Efforts

Jace Shoemaker-Galloway | Friday February 19th, 2010 | 0 Comments

Numerous organizations and companies have committed to making the 2010 Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games more environmentally friendly. Whether it is the Olympic medals comprised partly of electronic waste or the Olympia electric ice-resurfacing machine, next to gold, green is the color of choice when it comes to the 2010 Winter Games.

Coca-Cola is taking part in a variety of sustainable efforts that are the largest and most comprehensive in the history of the company. The soft drink giant, an Olympic Games partner since 1928, is committing to be carbon neutral by reducing the company’s Olympic carbon emissions by 100 percent.

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The Wind Beneath a Greener Ferry’s Wings

Bill DiBenedetto | Friday February 19th, 2010 | 0 Comments

ban-startup-friday

A small San Francisco startup, Wind+Wing Technologies, wants to take us back to the future with its concept for ferries equipped with carbon composite wings as sails, an idea that is also taking hold in a different form for ocean cargo vessels.
Ferries with sails are a natural for the Bay Area because of the strong prevailing winds. Wind+Wing, based in Napa, has come up with the nation’s first “winged and wind-assisted ferry vessel” for public use in the Bay Area.
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Detroit’s Schools Offer New Class: Working at Walmart

| Thursday February 18th, 2010 | 12 Comments

“When I grow up, I want to work at Walmart.” A phrase I would expect to be uncommon coming from high school students. However, in a city with a 50% unemployment rate and public schools struggling to stay open, the education system has joined with Walmart to help our country’s future generations learn to, well, work at Walmart.

Four inner-city Detroit high schools have teamed up with the world’s largest retailer to offer classes in “job-readiness training.” This program, launched last week, is during school hours and gives students high school credits toward graduation in addition to entry-level afterschool jobs. Sean Vann, principal at Frederick Douglass Academy for Young Men, explained that 30 students at his school will get jobs at Walmart.

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What Corporate America Can Learn from the Grateful Dead

| Thursday February 18th, 2010 | 4 Comments

Copyright the Grateful Dead

Editor’s Note: In its original form, this article used many phrases pulled (but not quoted) from Joshua Green’s article in the March issue of The Atlantic, which served as its inspiration. We’ve therefore revised the post. Our apologies to Mr. Green.

Though I wasn’t born until 1978, I was a follower of the Grateful Dead. People of all ages have different reasons for becoming fans of the Dead, but for me, I just really liked their music. I was fascinated by the movement that followed them, one which they had no intention of creating, but found themselves inadvertently surrounded by legions of fans that looked to them as Gods.I was lucky enough to attend a Dead concert at RFK stadium in D.C. back in the mid 90s and it was an unexplainable experience. Less than a year later, Jerry Garcia, the band’s lead singer and guitarist, died of a heart attack.

Now, as an adult, I am still captivated by the Dead’s enduring legacy. The way they created customer value, promoted social networking. Making their mark on music and business, all while giving counterculture a home. Last year the remaining band members announced that the Grateful Dead Archive – recordings, press clippings, props, letters, etc. – was scheduled to open at the University of California at Santa Cruz. This news is great for the musicologists, historians, sociologists, philosophers, psychologists and business theorists who study the Grateful Dead.

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Crate & Barrel Warehouse Robots Cut Carbon Footprint of Retail

Kathryn Siranosian | Thursday February 18th, 2010 | 9 Comments

Can robots from MA-based Kiva Systems turn warehouses green?

Crate and Barrel thinks so.

So far, most companies have installed Kiva warehouse automation systems because they want to improve efficiencies and cut costs.

But, Crate and Barrel is betting that there’s even greater potential. The company recently purchased a Kiva system for its Tracy, Calif. Distribution Complex (DC), and it’s especially keen to see how these innovative robots can help drive carbon footprint reductions.

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Beyond Olympic Glory: Athletes Blast Canada’s Tar Sands Industry

Bill DiBenedetto | Thursday February 18th, 2010 | 0 Comments

The Winter Olympics this year in Vancouver, BC, is a little more than the usual venue for endless corporate advertising and big money sponsorship of “amateur” athletes, thanks to the Sierra Club and its campaign against Canada’s tar oil sands extraction industry.

A few prominent winter athletes are joining with various international environmental groups in calling on Canada to “save the Winter Olympics” and end oil sands destruction.

It’s a combination of athletic self-interest and environmental activism, with the world watching.

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Breaking News: Three Tesla Employees Killed in Palo Alto Plane Crash

Steve Puma | Wednesday February 17th, 2010 | 0 Comments

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Brace for Impact: the West Coast Anticipates Electric Vehicles

| Wednesday February 17th, 2010 | 4 Comments

It’s hard not to see the flurry of activity preceding Dec 2010’s slated electric vehicle launches as an expression of joyous excitement. A range of stakeholders are taking action, and coordinating to prepare for widespread electric vehicle ownership. But are they in fact preparing for a new Golden Age in transportation, for the most significant change since the highway? The New York Times reports that the West Coast will be the first to find out.

Infrastructure for the long haul

At the current rate of investment, even if electric vehicles flop, cities in Washington, Oregon and California will be forced to “make it work” to recoup sunk costs. Perhaps to prevent this outcome, businesses and governments are making long-term commitments that create a version of path dependence to lock in West Coast electric vehicle markets. On the other hand, the steps that communities are taking to commit to electric vehicles are also totally prudent, and are exactly what is required for systematic change. The infrastructure and policy improvements are necessary to foster a successful transition to a new automotive paradigm. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the governing body for electricity policy in California in San Francisco, is the convenient epicenter for this frenzy of planning, collaboration and deal-making.

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Shareholder Activism, Yes You Can

Dale Wannen
Dale Wannen | Wednesday February 17th, 2010 | 2 Comments

By Dale Wannen, Harrington Investments

Ever want to just yell, while reading about overpaid CEOs?  Ever wish that you could ask the board members at Monsanto if they eat genetically modified corn?  Ever want to just stare Larry Ellison in the eye and ask him how much his sailboat costs shareholders?  Well, you can. Shareholder activism is the broad term used for ways to advocate for change within a corporation.

To take that a step further, any stock owner who meets the criteria ($2,000 worth of stock held for a minimum of one year) is able to file something called a shareholder resolution. Shareholder resolutions are simply proposals put forward by the shareholders to raise public awareness of issues and hopefully change egregious corporate behaviors.  Granted, most proposals are pushed into the paper shredder by corporations and/or rejected by the SEC. However, if your resolution is placed on the proxy ballot, you will be given a period of time to discuss your proposed resolution and supporting statements at the annual shareholder meeting and, more importantly, voice your issue to millions of shareholders through the proxy. Still, the question remains “is it making a difference?”

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New Business Model Transforms E-scrap for Good

RP Siegel | Wednesday February 17th, 2010 | 6 Comments

Imagine a world where nothing is wasted, where there are no landfills and where all citizens pitch in to help—a world where discarded items are picked up at curbside, turned into gold, which is then distributed to those most in need. Sounds like a fairy tale or a utopian dream, doesn’t it?

Well, the folks at Imagine It in Rochester, NY have put all the pieces together to make this happen with their Fundraising Through Recycling program. The idea started back in 2002 when founder Carlie Albano decided to raise money for a local charity and was looking for something different; she hit upon the idea of collecting ink cartridges and then selling them to recyclers, passing the proceeds along to her intended recipient. Setting up shop in her garage with her grandfather working along beside her; she conceived the idea that has grown to become Imagine It.

It seems that she stumbled upon a really big idea.

Did you know that every second:
•    8 printer cartridges are thrown away.
•    2.5 ounces of oil are used to produce each inkjet cartridge
•    3.5 quarts of oil to make each laser cartridge.

In a couple of months, cartridge remanufacturing will, according to Imagine It, save more oil than was spilled by the Exxon Valdez.

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Voluntary Simplicity and the Triple Bottom Line: An Interview with Duane Elgin

| Wednesday February 17th, 2010 | 3 Comments

Author Duane Elgin challenges his readers to give up the trappings of modern life (snuggies, melon ballers and all the other gadgets we can’t live without) in favor of a deeper form of satisfaction. His book Voluntary Simplicity has been much loved by those who find solace in the simpler path and much maligned by those who call followers mildly cultish and obsessive in their asceticism. First published in 1981, the book has recently been re-vamped with the modern sustainability movement in mind.

Elgin sums up the societal shifts of the last 30 years with the simplest of anecdotes: he’s gone from being introduced as the “MBA who has gone bad” to being introduced as “the MBA who has gone green.” MBAs no longer have to be singly focused on money to utilize their learning. We know all about that here at 3p, so we checked in with Elgin to ask him a few questions about the voluntary simplicity movement and how it relates to the triple bottom line

3p: How did your business education influence your development of  the theory of voluntary simplicity?

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Interview With Kevin Whitfield, Head Of Carbon At South Africa’s Nedbank

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Tuesday February 16th, 2010 | 0 Comments

Nedbank Group is one of South Africa’s largest banks and a leader in sustainability. I recently interviewed Kevin Whitfield, head of Carbon at Nedbank via email.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman: Nedbank Group has a reputation for being South Africa’s “green bank,” and has been committed to sustainability principles for 18 years. Why did Nedbank start to take sustainability into consideration almost two decades ago?

Kevin Whitfield: Nedbank’s sustainability journey was initiated by visionary foresight and leadership that recognized not only a need expressed by our clients to address environmental issues but also understood that the concept of sustainability in all its facets is crucial to ensuring the long-term interests of all our stakeholders and the bank’s own long-term profitability.

The journey began with the establishment of our partnership with WWF-SA in 1990 and has continued to be supported by WWF SA, our staff and various other stakeholders and is integral to the bank’s vision, strategy and long-term objectives.

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