It’s not unusual for Silicon Valley startups to run in “stealth mode” for a while, keeping their technology and developments to themselves and a few key partners while they work out the kinks and a business plan. But for Bloom Energy, the secrecy has been surprisingly effective, considering what they’re intent to spring on the world: small, clean, inexpensive, emission-free power plans that will enable homes and businesses to generate their own electricity and get off the electrical grid.
Bloom Energy is set to announce its technology Wednesday, but founder K.R. Sridhar gave venerable CBS News program 60 Minutes an inside look at its technology. Although all the details haven’t been disclosed, the Bloom Box seems to operate using a solid-oxide fuel cell technology originally developed by scientist at NASA to power things like interplanetary probes. The idea is to push hydrocarbons into a series of plates stacked on top of each other in modules of various sizes, coated with still-mysterious green and black “inks”…and the result is reliable electrical output. The hydrocarbons themselves come from something like a natural gas line—wouldn’t it be cool if that came from a landfill?—and the boxes themselves don’t make any sound, emit any odors or exhaust, and don’t vibrate. Bloom envisions a world where everyday homes can be taken off the electrical grid and have all their electrical needs met with a box in their back yard the size of a small trash can.
Bloom’s claims might seem pie-in-the-sky, but the company has already been rolling out industrial-sized versions of its technology to major corporations like Wal-Mart, FedEx, Staples, Google, and eBay—and eBay will be hosting the unveiling event this week, which promises to offer more detail than the 60 Minutes piece.
Skeptics, consumer advocates, energy industry watchers, and every consumers are eager to take a close look at what Bloom has accomplished: a big consideration is whether the company will be able to drive down the cost of fuel cell technology enough to make small-sized Bloom Boxes a cost-effective means to take homes off the electrical grid, or perhaps to supplement utility substations to handle peak load times. Even if the technology is everything Bloom Energy seems to want us to believe it is, it will likely still be a decade or more before it becomes an inexpensive enough solution for homeowners—but that’s a lot more promising than most fuel-cell technologies on the horizon.
Here’s the 60 minutes video from CBS itself: