Bloom Energy Server

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The Bloom Energy Server (the Bloom Box) is a solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) made by Bloom Energy, of Sunnyvale, California, that can use a wide variety of inputs (including liquid or gaseous hydrocarbons[1] produced from biological sources) to generate electricity on the site where it will be used.[2][3] It can withstand temperatures of up to 1,800 °F (980 °C), that would cause many other fuel cells to break down or require maintenance.[4] According to the company, a single cell (one 100 mm × 100 mm metal alloy plate between two ceramic layers) generates 25 watts.[5]

Bloom stated that two hundred servers have been deployed in California for corporations including eBay, Google, and Wal-Mart.[6]

Technology[edit]

The Bloom Energy Server uses thin white ceramic plates (100 × 100 mm)[7] that are made from components found in beach sand. Each plate is coated with a green nickel oxide-based ink on one side, forming the anode, and another black (probably Lanthanum strontium manganite) ink on the cathode side.[8][9] According to the San Jose Mercury News, "Bloom's secret technology apparently lies in the proprietary green ink that acts as the anode and the black ink that acts as the cathode..." but in fact these materials are widely known in the field of SOFCs. Wired reported that the secret ingredient may be yttria-stabilized zirconia based upon US patent  that was granted to Bloom in 2009; but this material is also one of the most common electrolyte materials in the field.[10] US patent 20080261099 , assigned to Bloom Energy Corporation, says that the "electrolyte includes yttria stabilized zirconia and a scandia-stabilized zirconia, such as a scandia ceria stabilized zirconia". ScSZ has a higher conductivity than YSZ at lower temperatures, which provides greater efficiency and higher reliability when used as an electrolyte. Scandia is scandium oxide (Sc
3
O
2
) which is a transition metal oxide that costs between US$1,400 and US$2,000 per kilogram in 99.9% pure form. Current annual world wide production of scandium is less than 2,000 kilograms. Most of the 5,000 kilograms used annually is sourced from Soviet era stockpiles.

To save money, the Bloom Energy Server uses inexpensive metal alloy plates for electric conductance between the two ceramic fast ion conductor plates. In competing lower temperature fuel cells, platinum is required at the cathode.[8]

Bloom Energy[edit]

Bloom Energy
Type Privately held
Predecessor(s) Ion America
Founded 2002
Founder(s) K. R. Sridhar C.E.O , John Finn, Matthias Gottmann, James McElroy, Dien Nguyen
Headquarters Sunnyvale, California, USA
Key people K. R. Sridhar (founder, CEO)
Products regenerative solid oxide fuel cells
Net income 85 Million loss (2008)[11]
Owner(s) Kleiner Perkins (among others)
Website http://www.bloomenergy.com/

Bloom Energy is the company that develops, builds, and installs Bloom Energy Servers.[11] The company, started in 2002 by CEO K.R. Sridhar,[11] is one of 26 named a 2010 Tech Pioneer by the World Economic Forum.[12]

History[edit]

In October 2001, CEO K.R Sridhar met with John Doerr from the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins.[13] Sridhar asked for more than $100 million to start the company. Bloom Energy eventually received $400 million of start-up funding from venture capitalists, including Kleiner Perkins[8] and Vinod Khosla.[14]

The company, originally called Ion America, was renamed Bloom Energy in 2006.[15]

Sridhar credited his nine-year-old son for the name, saying that his son believed jobs, lives, environment, and children would bloom.[16] Michael R. Bloomberg appeared at the launch by video link.[17] Bloomberg's business news network covered the event, but attributed every statement to "Bloom Energy".[18]

The CEO gave a media interview (to Fortune Magazine) for the first time in 2010, eight years after founding the company, because of pressure from his customers.[11] A few days later he allowed Lesley Stahl of the CBS News program 60 Minutes to see the factory.[19] On February 24, 2010, the company held its first press conference.[15]

Bloom Energy's well-known customers include Walmart, Staples, AT&T, Adobe, CocaCola, Ebay, Google, Bank of America, FedEx, Life Technologies,[20] and Safeway.

Costs[edit]

Installation[edit]

The current cost of each hand-made 100 kW Bloom Energy Server is $700,000–$800,000. In 2010, the company announced plans for a smaller, home sized Bloom server priced under $3,000.[8] Bloom estimated the size of a home-sized server at 1 kW, although others recommended 5 kW.[21]

The capital cost is $7–8 per watt.[22]

According to the New York Times (Green Blog), in early 2011 "... Bloom Energy ... unveiled a service to allow customers to buy the electricity generated by its fuel cells without incurring the capital costs of purchasing the six-figure devices.... Under the Bloom Electrons service, customers sign 10-year contracts to purchase the electricity generated by Bloom Energy Servers while the company retains ownership of the fuel cells and responsibility for their maintenance.... 'We’re able to tell customers, ‘You don’t have to put any money up front, you pay only for the electrons you use and it’s good for your pocketbook and good for planet,’ ' [CEO K.R. Sridhar] said."[23]

Usage[edit]

On 24 February 2010, Sridhar claimed that his devices were making electricity for 8–10 cents/kWh using natural gas, cheaper than today's electricity prices in some parts of the United States, such as California.[24][25] Twenty percent of the cost savings depend upon avoiding transfer losses that result from energy grid use.[21]

Bloom Energy claimed to be developing power purchase agreements to sell electricity produced by the boxes, rather than selling the boxes themselves, in order to address customers' fears about box maintenance, reliability, and servicing costs.[19]

As of 2010, fifteen percent of the power at eBay was created with Bloom technology; after tax incentives that covered half the capital costs. eBay expects "a three-year payback period" for the remaining half, based on California's $0.14/kWh cost of commercial electricity.[26]

Installations[edit]

The company says that its first 100-kW Bloom Energy Servers were shipped to Google in July 2008.[27] Four such servers were installed at Google's headquarters, which became Bloom Energy's first customer.[19] Another installation of five boxes[1] produces up to 500 kW at eBay headquarters California.[19] Bloom Energy stated that their customers include Staples (300 kW – December 2008),[28] Walmart (800 kW – January 2010),[29] FedEx (500 kW),[30] The Coca-Cola Company (500 kW)[31] and Bank of America (500 kW).[32][33] Each of these installations were located in California.

Portable units[edit]

Sridhar announced plans to install Bloom Energy Servers in third world nations.[17] Ex-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell, now a Bloom Energy board member, said the Bloom Energy generators could be useful to the military because they are lighter, more efficient, and generate less heat than traditional generators.[34]

Feasibility[edit]

CH_4 + 2O_2 \rightarrow CO_2 + 2H_2O + electricity + heat

The chemical reaction used to create energy in Bloom Energy products

Bloom Energy Server technology is based upon stacking small fuel cells which operate in concert.[7][15] Bloom Energy's approach of stacking fuel cells that enable individual plates to expand and contract at the same rate at high temperatures.[7] However, other solid oxide fuel cell producers have solved the problem of different expansion rates of cells in the past.[9] Scott Samuelsen of the University of California, Irvine National Fuel Cell Research Center questioned the operational life of Bloom Servers. "At this point, Bloom has excellent potential, but they have yet to demonstrate that they've met the bars of reliability."[15] Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory expert Michael Tucker claimed, "Because they operate at high temperatures, they can accept other fuels like natural gas and methane, and that's an enormous advantage... The disadvantage is that they can shatter as they are heating or cooling."[15]

Venture capitalist John Doerr asserted that the Bloom Energy Server is cheaper and cleaner than the grid.[1][35] An expert at Gerson Lehrman Group wrote that, given today's electricity transmission losses of about 7% and utility-size gas-fired power stations efficiency of 33-48%, the Bloom Energy Server is up to twice as efficient as a gas-fired power station.[2] Fortune stated that "Bloom has still not released numbers about how much the Bloom Box costs to operate per kilowatt hour" and estimates that natural gas rather than bio-gas will be its primary fuel source.[36] AP reporter Jonathan Fahey in Forbes wrote: "Are we really falling for this again? Every clean tech company on the planet says it can produce clean energy cheaply, yet not a single one can. Government subsidies or mandates keep the entire worldwide industry afloat. Hand it to Bloom, the company has managed to tap into the hype machine like no other clean tech company in memory." [37]

Efficiency[edit]

Bloom claims a conversion efficiency of around 50%.[38] A modern combined cycle gas turbine power plant (CCGT) can reach 60% overall efficiency, using a multi-step process. Sridhar stated that Bloom's products convert chemical energy to electrical energy in one step, are more fuel efficient than current gas-fired power stations and reduce transmission/distribution losses by producing power where it is used.[39]

Each Bloom Energy Server provides 100 kW of power, enough to meet the baseload needs of 100 average homes or a small office building.[40] The average monthly electricity consumption for a U.S. residential utility customer was 958 kWh per month during 2011[41]

Sridhar said the boxes have a 10 year life span,[25] although that could include replacing the cells during that period. The CEO of eBay says Bloom Energy Servers have saved the company $100,000 in electricity bills since they were installed in mid-2009,[8] Contributor at Fortune Magazine Paul Keegan calls that figure "meaningless without the details to see how he got there".[36]

Long-term business case[edit]

Assuming a 50% future cost reduction, one could argue that the best case scenario for the 200 kW unit would be a capital (installed) cost comparable to today's 100 kW units, i.e., around $800,000. Using average electricity ($0.10/kWh) and natural gas ($3/MMBtu) prices and assuming a 6% per year maintenance/operating cost apart from fuel, the break-even period for the device comes to over 8 years, based on published performance numbers.[42]

Parameter Name Value Unit / description
Fuel (natural gas) flow rate for 200 kW Bloom Energy Server 1.32 MMBtu/hr
Fuel energy in rate in kW (1 MMBTU/hr CH4 = 293 kW) 386.76 kW
Fuel cost $3.96 per hour
Electric output rate 200 kW
System efficiency natural gas -> electricity 52% percent conversion of natural gas energy to electrical energy
Electricity cost $0.10 per kWh
Electricity produced revenue $20.00 per hour
CO2 produced 773 lb/MWh
Run cost savings per bloom box (electricity revenue less fuel cost) $16.04 per hour
Cost savings per year assuming 24X7 full load operation $140,510.40 per year
Capital cost (estimated minimum cost after projected reductions) $800,000.00 for each 200 kW unit
Annual maintenance / operation cost 6% as a fraction of capital cost, per year
Cost savings after maintenance costs $92,510.40 per year
Break even period 8.6 years

These numbers mean that the total lifetime of these systems would need to exceed 15–20 years to make an argument for a viable long-term business case without subsidies. The analysis might be somewhat different if the systems are used mainly for peak (power) shaving when electricity costs can exceed $0.15/kWh. However, the intermittent nature of such peak periods would likely reduce the overall impact on the estimated break-even period using average cost figures for electricity and natural gas. A reliable bio-derived source of fuel (bio-gas) would also tip the argument in a favorable direction, however such sources are not typically located near customer sites.[citation needed]

Competition[edit]

A Gerson Lehrman Group analyst wrote that GE dismantled its fuel cell group five years ago and Siemens almost dismantled theirs.[2] GE Power Conversion is researching a SOFC power hybrid.[43] United Technologies is the only large conglomerate that has competitive fuel cell technology.[2] Toshiba has technology to provide energy for a small device, not a neighborhood.[2]

Sprint owns 15 patents on hydrogen fuel cells and is using 250 fuel cells to provide backup power for its operations. Sprint has been using fuel cell power since 2005. In 2009, Sprint's fuel cell program received a grant of $7.3 million from the United States Department of Energy to expand the hydrogen capacity of its fuel cell tanks from providing up to 15 hours of backup power, to 72 hours.[44] Sprint partnered with ReliOn and Altergy for fuel cell manufacture, and with Air Products as a hydrogen supplier. German fuel cell firm P21 has been working on similar projects to supply backup power for cellular operations.[45] United Technologies makes fuel cells costing $4,500 per kilowatt.

In October 2009, the Department of Energy awarded nearly USD $25 million in grants for research and development of solar fuels.[10][46]

In October 2012, the US government awarded Bloom Energy $70,710,959 under its section 1603 energy awards program.[47]

A competitor claimed the Bloom Box uses a "thick electrolyte" that requires 900 °C temperatures to overcome electrical resistance. Topsoe Fuel Cell[48] and Ceres Power instead employ "thick anode" technology that allows operation at cooler temperature. Ceres has a four-year program to install 37,500 units in the homes of customers of the UK's British Gas.[49]

Ballard Power's comparably scaled products are based on proton exchange membrane fuel cells. Ballard's 150 kW units are intended for mobile applications such as municipal buses,[50] while their larger 1 MW stationary systems are configured from banks of 11 kW building blocks.[51]

Another competitor in Europe and Australia is Ceramic Fuel Cells. It claims an efficiency of 60% for the power-only units; these fuel cells are based on technology spun off from Australia's CSIRO.[52]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "Tech Pioneers Who Will Change Your Life". Time Magazine. 2009-12-17. Retrieved 24 February 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "GLG Expert Contributor" (22 February 2010). "Answering the Unanswered Questions". Gerson Lehrman Group. 
  3. ^ "Bloom Box: What is it and how does it work?". Christian Science Monitor. 22 February 2010. 
  4. ^ "Bloom Energy Server unveiled, Bloom Box not for the home just yet – Mobile Magazine". Mobilemag.com. 2010-02-25. Retrieved 2013-07-28. 
  5. ^ Goldenberg, Suzanne (22 February 2010). "Bloom Box fuel cell launch". London: The Guardian. 
  6. ^ "Industry leading companies choose Bloom Electrons for immediate cost savings and carbon reduction benefits" (Press release). Bloom Energy. 20 January 2011. Retrieved 30 June 2011. 
  7. ^ a b c Schmit, Julie (24 February 2010). "Clean, cheap power from fuel cells in a box?". USA Today. 
  8. ^ a b c d e "The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough?". 60 Minutes. February 21, 2010. Retrieved 2010-02-22. 
  9. ^ a b Subhash C. Singhal, Kevin Kendall (2003). High temperature solid oxide fuel cells: fundamentals, design, and applications. Elsevier. p. 10. ISBN 1-85617-387-9. 
  10. ^ a b Kanellos, Michael (22 February 2010). "Bloom Box fuel cell launch". Wired. Retrieved 24 February 2010. 
  11. ^ a b c d 1, x (19 February 2010). "Is K.R. Sridhar’s 'magic box' ready for prime time?". Fortune Magazine. Retrieved 26 February 2010. 
  12. ^ "Bloom Energy Shifts Power via Fuel Cells". BusinessWeek. December 7, 2009. Retrieved 2010-02-22. 
  13. ^ "The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough?". CBS News. February 18, 2010. Retrieved 2010-02-24. 
  14. ^ Coursey, David (February 23, 2010). "Why I'm Bullish on Bloom Energy". PC World. Retrieved 2010-02-24. 
  15. ^ a b c d e "Bloom Energy unveils its 'Bloom Box' fuel cell". San Jose Mercury News. February 24, 2010. Retrieved 2010-02-24. 
  16. ^ Gaylord, Chris (22 February 2010). "Bloom Box: What 60 Minutes left out". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 26 February 2010. 
  17. ^ a b "Live from the Bloom Box press event". Engadget. Retrieved 2010-02-24. 
  18. ^ Chediak, Mark (24 February 2010). "Bloom Energy Says Generator Can Produce 100 Kilowatts (Update1)". Bloomberg. 
  19. ^ a b c d "Bloom Energy Revealed on 60 Minutes! : Greentech Media". Greentechmedia.com. 19 February 2010. Retrieved 2010-02-24. 
  20. ^ "Life Technologies Moving 'Off the Grid' with Clean Energy Fuel Cells". 19 July 2012. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  21. ^ a b "Bloom Box challenges: Reliability, cost". cNet News. February 24, 2010. Retrieved 2010-02-24. 
  22. ^ Fareed Zakaria (2010-04-22). "K.R. Sridhar: Bloom Energy's Fuel-Cell Guru – Newsweek and The Daily Beast". Newsweek.com. Retrieved 2013-07-28. 
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  24. ^ Woody, Todd (2010-02-24). "A maker of fuel cells blooms in California". New York Times blogs. Retrieved 2010-04-26. 
  25. ^ a b Woody, Todd (24 February 2010). "Bloom Energy Claims a New Fuel Cell Technology". New York Times. 
  26. ^ "A Maker of Fuel Cells Blooms in California". The New York Times. February 24, 2010. Retrieved 2010-02-24. 
  27. ^ "NASA Technology Comes to Earth". Retrieved 24 February 2010.  (primary source)
  28. ^ "Be The Solution | Customer Story: Staples". Bloom Energy. Retrieved 2010-02-24.  (primary source)
  29. ^ "Be The Solution | Customer Story: Walmart". Bloom Energy. Retrieved 2010-02-24.  (primary source)
  30. ^ "Be The Solution | Customer Story: FedEx". Bloom Energy. Retrieved 2010-02-24.  (primary source)
  31. ^ "Be The Solution | Customer Story: Coca-Cola". Bloom Energy. Retrieved 2010-02-24.  (primary source)
  32. ^ "Be The Solution | Customer Story: Bank of America". Bloom Energy. Retrieved 2010-02-24. 
  33. ^ "Press kit". Bloom Energy. Retrieved 24 February 2010.  (primary source)
  34. ^ Caption by: Josh Lowensohn, Michelle Meyers (2010-02-24). "Bloom board member Colin Powell – Meet the Bloom box (images) - CNET News". News.cnet.com. Retrieved 2013-07-28. 
  35. ^ E-mail This (2010-02-24). "Bloom Energy Claims a New Fuel Cell Technology – DealBook Blog – NYTimes.com". Dealbook.blogs.nytimes.com. Retrieved 2010-02-24. 
  36. ^ a b "Bloom Box: Segway or savior?". Fortune. Retrieved 24 February 2010. 
  37. ^ Fahey, Jonathan (2010-02-24). "What Bloom Energy Needs To Prove". Forbes. Retrieved 24 February 2010. 
  38. ^ by Martin LaMonica (2010-03-01). "Parsing fact from fiction with the Bloom Energy box | Green Tech – CNET News". News.cnet.com. Retrieved 2013-07-28. 
  39. ^ — 07 October 2009 (2009-10-07). "KR Sridhar: Transcript of Fresh Dialogues Interview Part One". Fresh Dialogues. Retrieved 2013-07-28. 
  40. ^ "Energy Server – What is it?". Bloom Energy. 2011-10-13. Retrieved 2013-07-28. 
  41. ^ "How much electricity does an American home use? – FAQ – U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)". Eia.gov. 2013-03-19. Retrieved 2013-07-28. 
  42. ^ "Clean, Renewable Energy | Bloom Energy Solid Oxide Fuel Cells". Bloomenergy.com. 2011-10-13. Retrieved 2013-07-28. 
  43. ^ GE to muscle into fuel cells with hybrid System
  44. ^ "Sprint Receives $7.3 Million U.S. Department of Energy Grant to Expand Hydrogen Fuel Cell Deployment". Apr 17, 2009. 
  45. ^ Fehrenbacher, Katie (February 23, 2010). "Phone Companies Are Developing Fuel Cells, Too". Business Week. Retrieved 2010-02-24. 
  46. ^ "New Form of Solar Energy: Direct Solar Fuel". Business Week. October 28, 2009. Retrieved 2010-02-24. 
  47. ^ "Recovery Act". Retrieved 2013-01-31. 
  48. ^ "Topsoe Fuel Cell". Topsoefuelcell.com. Retrieved 2013-07-28. 
  49. ^ "Innovation: Bloom didn't start a fuel-cell revolution". February 26, 2010. 
  50. ^ "PEM FC Product Portfolio". Ballard Power. Retrieved 2010-03-04. 
  51. ^ "Application Overview". Ballard Power. Retrieved 2010-03-04. 
  52. ^ "CFCL". Ceramic Fuel Cells. Retrieved 2010-05-17. 

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