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Bloom Energy: Could it replace current electric and other alternative fuel cars?

James Raia

Bloom Energy: Could it replace current electric and other alternative fuel cars? 1Bloom Energy, the fuel cell company featured on 60 Minutes and preparing for its public launch Feb. 24, was described by commentator Leslie  Stahl in dramatically succinct fashion:

“The idea is to one day replace the big power plants and transmission line grid, the way the laptop moved in on the desktop and cell phones supplanted landlines.”

Based in Sunnyvale, Calif., Bloom Energy has operated for the past eight years. According to the 60 Minutes report, it has raised about $400 million from venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, and its early clients include Google, eBay and Walmart.

Additional investors in Bloom Energy are diverse and its business relationships are posted on the company’s web site.

But what was conspicuously absent from the 60 Minutes report was if the fuel cells could have a potential application in auto industry.

The Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf and Tesla Roadster are auto industry’s current most discussed electric cars. Could Bloom Energy be in the future of those manufacturers? What about Ford, Volkswagen and Toyota?

In its recent report, BusinessWeek.com addressed the potential use of Bloom Box technology for cars:

“The Bloom box also has another benefit that could become increasingly important if the world’s automakers succeed at developing hydrogen-powered vehicles. Since one of the byproducts of the Bloom fuel cell is hydrogen, the device could be used to create fuel for cars.

“And even if hydrogen vehicles don’t materialize for decades, Bloom boxes could generate electricity for hybrid or electric cars. Either way, the system would allow people to sidestep traditional gas stations.”

Described as “industrial-sized refrigerator,” the Bloom Box, bakes sand which it then cuts it into squares that become ceramic. The ceramic squares are coated with green and black “inks.”

Bloom makes the ceramic discs which it stacks together with metal plates. The more power the Bloom Box makes, the bigger the stack.

Bloom Energy’s vision was first developed for use in outer space. While working as a director of the Space Technologies Laboratory at the University of Arizona, K.R. Sridhar, the company’s Indian-born co-founder and CEO, was asked by NASA devise a way to make life sustainable on Mars.

Sridhar’s initial project was a device that would use solar power and Martian water to drive a reactor cell that generated oxygen to breathe and hydrogen to power vehicles.

Current alternative energy buzz terms in the automotive industry include electric, hybrid, hydrogen, ethanol and the more traditional mainstream alternative, diesel.

But has Bloom Energy, which reportedly allows Google to use half as much natural gas in one of its data centers, had discussions on any level with automakers?

Could we one day be discussing Bloom cars?

Article Last Updated: February 21, 2010.

2 thoughts on “Bloom Energy: Could it replace current electric and other alternative fuel cars?”

  1. Bloom Energy uses Solid Oxide (SOFC) design, a high temperature fuel cell (900C). This device needs time to warm-up before becoming operational. It could be as short as minutes but could be a little longer. While some have advocated some sort of hybrid system for autos (use batteries during warm-up time) most agree this technology is not best suited for autos. Hence auto manufacturers are mostly concentrating on proton exchange membrane (PEMFC) technology which needs no warmup time and operates at more moderate temperatures (80C).

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  2. The world will have to wait to see exactly how Bloom Energy uses fuel cells to make electricity at this scale with no emissions, but powering more than 100 homes for less than $1 million is an incredible prospect. Great to know eBay, Google, and Fedex are pioneering the trials of this new technology. Let the countdown begin.

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