Bloom Energy Finally Comes Clean in Packed Press Briefing

In a standing-room-only press conference today, held at eBay headquarters in San Jose, Bloom Energy publicly launched its Bloom Energy Server, following eight years of highly secret development, and almost $400m in investments, much of it from Silicon Valley’s top shelf VC, Kleiner Perkins.

The event kicked off with introductory remarks by Governor Schwarzenegger who described the state’s booming clean energy industry as the new California gold rush, and promised to create a new jobs bill focused on the clean energy sector.

“I love this guy,” the governor declared as he embraced Bloom Energy CEO KR Sridhar before turning over the podium to him. Mr. Sridhar covered much of the same ground as his recent 60 Minutes interview with Lesley Stahl.

The briefing continued with a panel discussion, moderated by Kleiner Perkins’ John Doerr, who admitted, “this is definitely the most powerful panel I’ve ever moderated.” No kidding. The panel featured a who’s who of corporate VIPs whose companies are currently testing the Bloom Energy Server at their facilities. Larry Page from Google, John Donahoe from eBay and Bill Simon from Walmart were among the executives endorsing Bloom’s new fuel cell technology.

General Colin Powell made the concluding remarks asserting that energy would be our biggest challenge in the 21st century especially for developing countries. Bloom Energy’s long-term vision is to bring clean energy to the billions of people now living off the grid.

Bloom Energy CEO KR Sridhar

The Bloom Energy Server, or Bloom Box as it’s being called, promises to reduce carbon emissions by at least 50 percent, run on a wide range of fuels, and provide electricity at a much cheaper rate per kW, compared to today’s utility grid power system. The test systems are providing power at 8 to 9 cents per kWh, according to Mr. Sridhar. (It should be noted that this price takes into account various California state subsidies and federal tax incentives.)

The company has been testing the Bloom Box at 20 customer sites (with price tags close to $800k) including locations like Google and eBay for the past 18 months, which have shown significant improvements in efficiency and emissions over existing fuel cell systems.

But the big questions still remain. Fuel cell systems have traditionally required precious metals, like platinum, and the use of corrosive chemicals that have made it difficult to build durable systems economically. Bloom Energy claims they have conquered many of these challenges by basing their technology on solid oxide ceramic fuel cells that can be made from common beach sand.

Most tech watchers agree that even if Bloom Energy has overcome the many physical challenges, it still remains to be seen if they can mass-produce these boxes at affordable prices, and it could take years to tell. Building prototypes versus large-scale commercial production are two different stories. If they can, no doubt the Bloom Box would be a true game changer with the potential to transform the world’s energy grid system.

Can Sridhar turn his vision into reality, or is this guy just bloomin’ crazy? Will the Bloom Box be the next big thing for Kleiner Perkins, who has already scored with successes like Amazon and Google, or will it go the way of the Segway scooter, one of the VC’s investments that never lived up to its hype?

All we can say is, “stay tuned.”

Jim Witkin is a writer and researcher based in Silicon Valley focused on business, technology and the environment. His work has been featured in the New York Times and Guardian newspapers on topics that include: sustainable business practices, clean tech, the environment and next generation transportation technologies. He holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School. Contact him at

15 responses

  1. I think the real story here – is not Bloom – but the mainstreaming of the idea of distributed power generation! Fuel cells are a very disruptive technology b/c it preserves a chemical 'fuel' model but pulls the power generation to the local level. (It stands in a different category than solar/wind– and is in many ways more disruptive to the global energy sector…

    Lots to explore — and I wish Bloom well… but in the end- it is the Distributed Power Generation market that we should be cheering for…

    A few recent posts to add to the comment section/ curious reader list!!

    Bloom Box and the Very Disruptive Future of Distributed Energy [Video]

    Why Personal Power Systems might be the Biggest Story in the Future of Energy

    Garry G
    Brooklyn, NY

    1. For us to really solve our earth problems with hydrogen (with or without fuel cells) we need to stop using fossil fuels all together. LPG is only available in limited amount for x years. Biofuels are still not reasonable enough until 4th generation biofuels proves to work.

      Unless there is a real sustainable and renewable way to power those fuel cells I don't see the point using them, No matter how efficient they are compared to utility-generated-electricity from the same LPG source.

      Is this the future?

  2. Great stuff. Enjoyed all of the press on this baby. Disappointed I can't buy stock in this baby yet. BloomBox, I love it, I'd buy that domain right now so you can sell it back to them in a year or so.

  3. There's some big names backing this but didn't the guy sound like a used car salesman on Sixty Minutes. “Yes it can run on solar” – ha ha, very funny. “It put's out a small amount of CO2” – Well, according do Bloom's figures it puts out about 50% of what a conventional power station would for the same amount of power. Loved all that alice-in-wonderland stuff about putting one in the backyard and going off grid for $3000. Think I'll go and convert the toilet into a methane generator immediately so I'll be ready when it comes ;-)
    On the plus side this is a massive improvement on coal-fired generation – so long as the gas holds out.

  4. I assume that the sales pitch of using sea sand is simply a way of saying that this device uses ceramic electrolyte spacers ( a very difficult design and manufacturing art). From the little info available sounds like this fuel cell needs to run at elevated temperatures and operates on other than hydrogen-oxygen… possibly hydrocarbon-oxygen ( or air)…. still it may be a turning point in the difficult history over more than half a century of developing fuel cells of any type for the widespread market. Local power generation may continue to be the place for these developments. Wait and see ! Sounds great right now.

  5. A couple of what I think are really important points that are not being made-
    The BB can run on biogas. That's great for off the grid but the methane from digesters can be mixed into the natural gas pipelines. That's a clear incremental path to carbon neutral. Since methane has 8-20 times the greenhouse effect of CO2, the BB's gas to CO2 conversion is a negative net greenhouse gas process. Plus the CO2 from a BB is pure, ready to sequester (in algae or however you like) without processing.

  6. Great news. Let us wait and see the economics put out by the inventor/ promoters. Apprehensive about the cost/ unit of energy produced, whether affordable to common man in near future or will it be limited to lab/scientific level ?
    Of course gigantic volumes and evolving process tecnology and material science can bring down the cost in future–when?

  7. Bloom seems to be the first to produce a commercial solid oxide fuel cell. I have it on good advice that they already have many large scale implementations which are enabling distributed generation. Which is what this is really about. My research shows that their boxes can produce electricity from natural gas at about the same efficiency as a large gas-fired plant, and with slightly less emissions. Good news. Especially if we have to transition to a natural gas / electricity economy due to oil issues. It's also good news in terms of grid security.

    It is disturbing thought, that this is being positioned as some sort of renewable energy wonder cure. It seems one has to study the press very carefully to uncover that basically, Bloom boxes convert natural gas (or other gasified fossil fuels) into electricity. Which makes this NOT a breakthrough green technology. I certainly haven't seen a lot of hype about utilities opening up new gas-fired power plants!

    I fear that this type of publicity, along with continuing promises of a hydrogen economy, lull the general public into a false sense of security about our energy prospects…

  8. I would like to give persoecctivee of procpecctive user. will a unit designed for small connercial use be salable based on savings over reaasonable period? we have 3 story office bldg in islands that has2 elevators and fully central a/c gen, parking, etc., with annual enegy cost of circa $200,000. Our standby is 350KW with auto switchover.

    can Bloom make small enough nut for me, and what would it cost?

    Jim Tunick

    Thr Tunick Building
    St. Thomas

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