As Seen Here 11 Years Ago: Bloom Box - Greetings Earthlings, We Give You the Bloom Energy Box as a Token of Our Friendship - EXCLUSIVE COMPLETE VIDEO
Bloom Energy Server Bursts onto the Scene with Out-Of-This-World Promises
By Marc J. Rauch
Exec. Vice President/Co-Publisher
Watch the complete Bloom Energy Press Conference Exclusively Right Here
Originally published February 26, 2010
Last Sunday, CBS Television’s “60 Minutes” presented a story that couldn’t have been more astonishing and unexpected than if Lesley Stahl announced that a UFO landed in her backyard and that the emerging alien-being presented her with a little black box that would end all of Earth’s electrical energy problems.
It was with that amount of surprise that Ms. Stahl first introduced to the general public a Silicon Valley company named Bloom Energy along with its principal founder and CEO, KR Sridhar. The little black box, which Mr. Sridhar prefers to call a “Bloom Energy Server” is a stand-alone electric generator that requires no connection to any centralized power generating plant and no coal-based or oil-based fuel to operate it. It also produces no offending noises or harmful emissions.
The first device shown easily fit onto Mr. Sridhar’s hands and was said to be able to power a typical American home (or two to four homes in a less electric-centric society), costing roughly $3,000. For industrial and commercial uses, a larger size box is needed. A unit the size of a parking space sitting outside of a supermarket would provide all the electric that that store needs, 24-hours a day, seven days per week.
It sounded way too good to be true.
POWDER TO POWER
The Bloom Energy Server functions in a fuel-cell process that the company refers to as Powder to Power, meaning that a “powder-ish” substance gets baked into square ceramic plates that are then painted black on one side and green on the other.
While the company has shied away from identifying the chemical properties of the two paints, the real secret-sauce, the powder-ish substance is one of Earth’s most abundant, easily accessible, and renewable materials: beach sand. Yes, that’s what KR said, “Beach sand.”
The ceramic sand-plates are stacked and separated by an inexpensive metal alloy layer. Typically, fuel-cell stacks have required expensive platinum or other rare metals to separate the layers. This is another of Bloom Energy’s innovations.
In the 60 Minutes interview, Lesley Stahl asked if it could even use solar energy to fuel the box and KR responded “We can use solar;” but gave no further details.
At this point in the story I expected to hear about a wish-list of prospective commercial customers, when and if Bloom can only solve one or two more issues, and when and if they could actually coax said potential commercial customers into hearing a sales pitch. But this is where the Bloom Energy story took another surprising turn, for as we learned several very large well respected companies have already been using Bloom Energy Servers, in one instance for the past eighteen months. The customer list revealed by Mr. Sridhar includes Google, FedEX, Walmart, and eBay.
A WELL KEPT SECRET
It was hard to believe that a device with such breakthrough potential could really have been kept secret from Wall Street, the greater industrial marketplace and the public. Seeking additional information and insight, my business partner and I contacted about fifty different companies and individuals who we would have expected to be in-the-know. The corporate and organizational affiliations ranged from the major automakers to relevant lobbyists to electric power providers to alternative energy producers. Not one responded with any knowledge of Bloom Energy and only one response indicated that they had watched the 60 Minutes interview.
How could something so good, if true, have been kept from so many who could benefit from such devices? In fact, in the couple of days between the 60 Minutes broadcast and the planned formal press announcement, several high level commentators expressed great skepticism over Bloom Energy’s claims because the information had been kept so secret for so long.
THE OFFICIAL UNVEILING
This past Wednesday, Bloom Energy staged their coming out party and introductory press conference. The event took place at the San Jose campus of eBay, one of Bloom’s customers.
At the designated time KR Sridhar took the stage. There was no introduction of KR, but everyone in the room knew who he was. Obviously the 60 Minutes story, even if not heavily watched on Sunday night, had since found wide distribution. Very quickly, the first speaker was announced; and while the identity of the first speaker had not been made public, it was the person most of the press expected because of his interest in alternative fuels and technologies, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Always charming, the Governor had some humorous things to say before introducing former U.S. Secretaries of State George Schultz and General Colin Powell, along with two State Assemblymen and San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed. The Governor then talked about his first visit to Bloom Energy in 2006 with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He marvelled over Bloom Energy’s growth from a handful of workers to the present 200 manufacturing employees.
After discussing his understanding of the benefits and potential of the Bloom Energy Servers, the Governor focused on the Bloom technology and products as a key ingredient to restoring economic health to California (and the nation). Schwarzenegger then welcomed KR Sridhar back on stage, this time by name.
KR Sridhar has a soft, slow, calming style of speech (later described by venture capital moneyman John Doerr as a combination of Martha Stewart and Steve Jobs). KR spent about 30-minutes methodically describing how the technology behind the Bloom Energy Servers was first conceived, as a terra-forming device to make the planet Mars habitable for humans, and then the process of how they are building the Bloom Boxes. At the appropriate point he walked over to a cloth-covered display, pulled the cover from a clear acrylic box and unveiled its contents as the secret ingredient. It was beach sand.
A second unveiling displayed a row of three or four foot high boxes that are presumably typical commercial sized units. Mr. Sridhar carefully pointed out that he and Bloom Energy are not the inventors of fuel-cells (they were originally designed in the 1830’s), they are the creators of a unique process that makes fuel-cell electric generation affordable and accessible.
Click PLAY to watch Part 1 of the press conference
John Doerr, the representative from venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers who KR first approached about seed funding, was brought to the stage to conduct a panel interview with top executives from Google, eBay, FedEX, Walmart, Coca-Cola and a cable-television company. They all talked about their personal and corporate desires for environmentally-friendly energy solutions, and their successful experiences to-date using Bloom Energy Servers.
At the conclusion of the panel discussion a video featuring Mayor Bloomberg, California Senator Diane Feinstein and three additional corporate execs was played prior to introducing General Colin Powell for the press conference’s closing remarks. The General, who is a limited-partner at Kleiner Perkins, sits on the Board of Directors of Bloom Energy, Inc.
Bloom Energy clearly brought out some heavy hitters to dispel any notions that this was too good to be true.
Click PLAY to watch Part 2 of the press conference
A frank, genial and very open thirty-minute question and answers session then ensued with KR Sridhar and John Doerr as the primary respondents. Although classified formulas were not disclosed, Bloom Energy Servers are no longer a secret.
Two key points were addressed during this session. The first is cost. KR revealed that present customers are now paying between nine and ten cents per kilowatt hour and that they would pay thirteen to fourteen cents per kilowatt hour to Pacific Gas & Electric, the Northern California utility company.
The second issue was related to the use of “solar” with the Bloom Box. This question referred back to the Lesley Stahl interview where KR was asked about Solar fuel. Solar would not power the units directly. The vision is that a home would use solar panels during bright daylight hours to provide needed electricity. That electricity would also power an on-board unit that converts water into hydrogen. That hydrogen is then used by the Bloom Energy Server to generate electricity during dark hours. KR projected that this system would not be available for perhaps ten years.
Click PLAY to watch Part 3, the Q&A session
NOT REALLY THAT BIG OF A DEAL
Concurrent with my attending and videotaping the press conference, my partner at The Auto Channel, Bob Gordon, spoke by telephone with a lead hydrogen scientist at the National Renewable Energy Labs (NREL) in Colorado. Our contact had known of the Bloom technology and revealed that the government had actually provided a $5 million grant to the company during its development stage.
But the important comment that he made was that what Bloom has developed is “Not really a big deal.” He then explained, “Fuel-cell technology has been around for a long time, and there are other similar electric generating devices that have been coming down in price. Developers have already learned that exponentially less platinum than originally thought can be used. Bloom has created a unique process, but it still utilizes widely known, proven and accepted techniques.”
So, "too good to be true" turns out to be a much more understandable and palatable “It’s good and it’s true.” And this is actually a good thing because it means that there is no man-behind-the-curtain it's impossible to believe because it's impossible scenario; this is merely good science put into play with some ingenuity, dedicated hard work, and a whole lot of venture capital. We can look forward to the Bloom Energy Server and similar devices helping advance our economy and lifestyle.
WHY BLOOM ENERGY SERVERS ARE A BIG DEAL
Even if the Bloom Boxes are not magical gifts from a sympathetic extraterrestrial civilization, they do offer at least five dramatic benefits, six if you count lower electricity costs. They are:
• No coal or petroleum oil fuel is needed to generate electricity. Reliance on foreign oil and price manipulation by foreign provocateurs is reduced or entirely mitigated. The extravagantly expensive need to protect and defend our oil rights in far off nations where we have no other interests becomes greatly diminished.
• The need for expensive nuclear generating plants is eliminated. Safety concerns and waste storage issues, even if only very slight, disappear.
• The units replace the need for costly, unsightly transmission wires and towers. If there is any truth to the theory that high-transmission wires can cause cancer or other illnesses, this issue is eliminated.
• Concerns about overloading the present electric gird system in the coming electric-vehicle age are taken off the table. The onerous need to build a new multi-trillion dollar “smart grid” becomes redundant.
• Reliance upon domestically abundant, affordable and sustainable fuel sources to power the Bloom units will also make use of these fuels for other purposes common place. Vehicle owner reluctance to use CNG, ethanol and other bio-fuels will turn to acceptance, which will in turn make these engine fuels more available and less expensive.
• The price of electricity becomes cheaper. Virtually every home owner and business can generate their own electric right there on their own property…WOW!
For much more information, including animations that explain how the Bloom fuel-cells work CLICK HERE.