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Bloom Energy Debuts SOFC Fuel Cell System for Distributed Generation

Bloom Energy Corporation staged a high-profile event announcing the availability of the Bloom Energy Server, a patented solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) technology for distributed power generation. The event was hosted at eBay Inc., featured California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, General Colin Powell, and early customers including Bank of America; The Coca-Cola Company; Cox Enterprises; eBay; FedEx Express; Google; Staples; and Walmart.

Diagram of a solid oxide fuel cell. The electrolyte is a ceramic. Click to enlarge.

Each Bloom Energy Server—comprising thousands of ceramic solid oxide fuel cells packaged as stacks—provides 100 kW of power in roughly the footprint of a parking space. For more power, customers deploy multiple Energy Servers side by side. Bloom’s customers have deployed the solution to lower and/or fix their energy costs, while significantly cutting their carbon footprints and enhancing their energy security by reducing their dependence on the grid.

SOFCs differ in many respects from other fuel cell technologies: they are all solid state, being made from ceramic substances; they operate at temperatures up to 1,000 °C; and the cells can be configured either as rolled tubes (tubular) or as flat plates (planar).

At the high operating temperatures, oxygen ions are formed from air at the air electrode (the cathode). When a fuel gas containing hydrogen is passed over the fuel electrode (the anode), the oxygen ions migrate through the crystal lattice to oxidize the fuel. Electrons generated at the anode move out through an external circuit, creating electricity.

With the high heat generated by the process, reforming hydrocarbon fuels—liquid or gaseous, fossil or renewable—to extract the necessary hydrogen can be accomplished within the fuel cell, eliminating the need for an external reformer.

With low cost ceramic materials, and extremely high electrical efficiencies, SOFCs can deliver attractive economics without relying on CHP. SOFCs operate at high temperature (typically above 800 °C). This high temperature gives them high electrical efficiencies and fuel flexibility, both of which contribute to better economics, but it also creates engineering challenges.

Numerous companies are working on SOFC systems for a wide range of applications in addition to distributed generation, including residential power and heat generation (earlier post); aviation (earlier post); and APU systems (earlier post).

Customers who purchase Bloom’s systems can expect a 3-5 year payback on their capital investment from the energy cost savings. Depending on whether they are using a fossil or renewable fuel as fuel for the SOFC, they can also achieve a 40-100% reduction in their carbon footprint as compared with the US grid.

Since the first commercial customer installation in July 2008, Bloom’s Energy Servers have collectively produced more than 11 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity, with CO2 reductions estimated at 14 million pounds.

Founded in 2001, Bloom Energy can trace its roots to the NASA Mars space program. For NASA, Dr. KR Sridhar, principal co-founder and CEO of Bloom Energy, and his team were charged with building technology to help sustain life on Mars using solar energy and water to produce air to breath and fuel for transportation.

In addition to CEO Sridhar, the company’s board members include John Doerr, partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers; General Colin Powell, former US Secretary of State; Scott Sandell, general partner, New Enterprise Associates (NEA); T.J. Rodgers, chairman, SunPower; and Eddy Zervigon, managing director, Morgan Stanley. Bloom Energy’s investors include Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, representing the firm’s first clean tech investment, as well as Morgan Stanley, NEA, and Northgate Capital.




"Depending on whether they are using a fossil or renewable fuel as fuel for the SOFC, they can also achieve a 40-100% reduction in their carbon footprint as compared with the US grid."

This is interesting. A good EPA project would be to fund a municipal waste power station. Utilizing a varied waste stream to produce syngas which then fuels the SOFC. A pilot plant of this type would be very useful. I would imagine that Santa Monica would be a good testing ground.

A NOTE for Canadians: here is a gateway to profiting from a far less "dirty" resource than oil. Grow your NG industry, build pipelines, and hook up with CHP distributed power makers like Bloom. The sale of NG will be hailed as green compared to tar sands and you have tons of NG in the ground.


In general, I like Bloom and hope they succeed. I'm local to them, and have acquaintances who work there. The questions they have to answer are:
1) Without State and Federal subsidies, at today's natural gas costs, what is the cost per Kilowatt-hour, and how long until positive ROI...if at all?
2) If the ROI formula works (with or without subsidies) such that the market appears very large, how much more money and time does Bloom need to scale up production?

The author at http://brainstormtech.blogs.fortune.cnn.com/2010/02/25/bloom-box-debut-more-ipo-than-co2/ thinks their announcement was mostly a prelude to an IPO, albeit a pretty good one.

Account Deleted

Bloom say their 100kW box cost 700 to 800k USD and that it is over 50% efficient meaning about 55%. This is not competitive with the efficiency and price of the best natural gas combined cycle plants that are 60% efficient (40% from gas turbine and another 20% from subsequent steam turbine) and cost as little as 100k USD per 100kW capacity.

Bloom also said they hope to develop a small 1000 Watt unit for household use in 5 to 10 years that they can sell for 3000 USD. That would be more interesting also because it could produce heat as well to the household. However, it is not a miracle company as it almost sounded like in 60 minutes. Plus where is the novelty? Many other companies are working on SOFCs.

I wish them good luck and hope they will make their household unit ahead of schedule.


If your average house uses around 5,000kWh of electricity and 15,000kWh of heating (rough figures)

If you fed the same amount of gas to a SOFC (providing 1kW of electricity and 1kW of heat for 7,000 hours a year) it would give you roughly 7,000kWh of heat and 7,000kWh of electricity. The extra 2,000kWh of electricity could charge a small PHEV-20 battery overnight (~8kWh per night ) and provide up to 8,000 miles electric driving.

The missing part of this is cutting of the thermal demands of the house in half (from 15,000kWh to 7,000kWh) this could come from a mix of solar thermal, improved insulation and/or a heat pumps.


Are your figures for MW scale installations? What can be achieved at the 100kW scale?

Bob H

"With low cost ceramic materials, and extremely high electrical efficiencies, SOFCs can deliver attractive economics without relying on CHP. SOFCs operate at high temperature (typically above 800 °C). This high temperature gives them high electrical efficiencies and fuel flexibility, both of which contribute to better economics, but it also creates engineering challenges. "

Can the excess heat from the cells be recovered for use for home heating ? If yes has Bloom energy published the details of how many BTU,s per hour are being generated. This could be a dream come true for Northern areas.

Nick Lyons

We need this in Alaska. Heating season is year round. We have trillions of cu ft of CH4. If we could get the pipelines built to where the people live, individual or neighborhodd CHP providing electricity and hot water would make a lot of sense and be much greener than many current solutions.


Some SOFC designs use a gas turbine at the output to burn the remaining H2 and drive the input air blower. They reach even higher efficiency, but probably would not be used in residential applications.

Account Deleted

David I just used the 100kW price to make it comparable to the Bloom unit. The most efficient combined cycle units are typically large 500MW plants. They are currently the least costly power plants on the market in terms of capital costs. In the future vehicle to grid technology may change that. For instance, each GM Volt has a 50kW generator or so that is already paid for. If large numbers of such vehicles are parked and connected to the grid they could supply peak power cost effectively because the power plant the is already paid for by the vehicle owner.


"how many BTUs per hour are being generated?"

At 50% efficiency and 100 kWh you would get more than 300,000 BTUs per hour or more than 3 therms of heat created by about 4 therms of natural gas. This would be enough to heat a 30,000 square foot office building. This is why they want to make a small version for homes.


Wow!! What a great opportunity. I missed my chance to short Ballard, when that Hindenburg exploded. Can't wait for the IPO.



Are you in a bad mood or is this your normal behavior?
The big explosion happened in a new natural gas plant that was purging the lines with 4000 therms of raw NG.

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/02/25/national/main6243334.shtml tag=cbsnewsLeadStoriesAreaMain;cbsnewsLeadStoriesHeadlines


What these and other SOFCs should work on is a residential power unit capable of 10kW output. The surplus heat can warm the building and its hot water and chill air in hot weather.

There are many other benefits to RPUs. With enough distribution they can reduce grid demand by 1/3rd. They eliminate transmission wire, towers, substations, transformers and maintenance on all. They increase energy security by avoiding easily targeted central power plants. Improve air quality over coal, and lower CO2.

Best of all is the opportunity to eliminate power lines above and below ground. These things are a freakin hazard to civilization. Burying high voltage lines is stupidly expensive.

AND jobs. Someone has to manufacture, install and maintain these RPUs. Energy companies convert from central electric power to distributed NG or syngas.

Once there is a large installed base of flex-fuel SOFCs - new alternative fuel (e.g. H2)sources can come online.



You make some very good points. I can see these in houses and buildings creating electricity, heating and cooling from natural gas. I can see providing methane from gasified biomass into those pipelines.

During the interview they mentioned that utilities would like them, even install them and maintain them. It is a lot less work and expense than installing large central plants and transmission lines.

It is also more robust in times of power outages when ice storms bring down power lines. You just have to "island" the neighborhood which is easily done with a smart grid.

Gr Na

Less dependence on wires and more dependence on gas pipelines.


At least gas pipes are buried, which is where the residential power line should be as well. Every time you hear of a wind or ice storm you hear about 1000s without power for days.


Keep in mind too that in rural areas CNG tanks or propane provide storage for gas heated homes. While this requires tanker transportation - it is still a more efficient CHP system than centralized electric only (depending on electric costs). Generally the CHP units work best in the colder north. In sunbelts like the SWest solar is also efficient and cheap.

We have plenty of NG and there are good biomass to syngas projects getting started. Eliminating the overhead wires will be a huge boon to the community AND provide far more secure energy.


This last snow storm in the east left 1 million people without power. Imagine all the jobs created putting the power lines underground instead of having to put all the lines back up after a storm.

Peter Andrin

I worked in fuel cell R&D for over 10 years as an engineer and materials scientist. Many fuel cell technologies can be made to work well. Fuel cell technology companies create a lot of hype by building expensive prototypes that can be demonstrated to function well. The challenge for everyone is making fuel cells work well and making them affordable at the same time. The challenge cannot be addressed simply through high volume manufacturing economies of scale. New material science breakthroughs are required. In the case of SOFC's, it is typically the seals in the fuel cells that are the achilles heel. (Catalyst life is also an issue.) If Bloom Energy has created some novel materials to deal with the seals and catalyst life, then they might have something. Does anyone know what Bloom's claim to fame for technology is?



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