I’m not sure I’m convinced that the Bloom Box, featured on CBS’ 60 Minutes last week, is a reasonable answer to our power issues, but is sounds interesting. And, after 8 years in development and $400m in VC funding and some actual systems in place at Google and Wal-Mart (customers), it seems there’s no looking back for the Bloom Energy’s Bloom Box.
What is the Bloom Box. It is essentially a fuel cell that uses natural gas and special low cost components. The fuel cell itself looks like an 8″ stack of CDs but the power unit, the Bloombox or Energy Server, is about the size of 2 refrigerators; and costs about $700,000-$800,000. Each! The installation at Google’s campus looked like they had about 20-30 units. That’s a good start against the $400m investment.
Of course the outrageous price might be likened to the $10,000 PCs that are now many times more powerful and cost on the order of $500. So what costs hundreds of thousands of dollars now might be a few thousand dollars in, oh, perhaps 20 years?
The promise of a Bloombox is that someday we can have our own Bloombox next to the AC unit on the side of our house and be completely free of the grid; except… we will still need natural gas to power the fuel cell.
Call me cynical, but for now I’m a bit skeptical. We will still need to pay for natural gas (the old fuel), we still need to pay for a bloombox (whenever it comes down to being affordable by people like me), and because of the VC investment, they’re sure to have all the patents locked down. It’s unlikely therefore that we can go buy a knock-off “Boombox”.
I think it’s interesting that they’re calling the box a “Power Server”. Great marketing.
Here’s a flash presentation from Bloom Energy’s site about how the fuel cell works: