Bloom Box. Future or Hype?

My guess is that by now many of you might already have read about it. It is one of thing of discussion in the tech scene.

Forewords

Tell you the truth, I was pretty much skeptic when news came out about unveiling on Feb 24, 2010. I am so tired of "one solution to all energy problems", "savior of future", and "cheap and free energy forever" kind of products that I found myself pretty much skeptic whenever a new product is launched in market.

Little Info

"Bloom Box" (but the company wants to call it by name of "Bloom Energy Server", yeah they are trying to give it a computer-style name :) ) is nothing but fuel-cell. Fuel-cells are nothing new, many already in market by major companies. Some are working but many other are just show-pieces, but none working as their promised "solution to all energy needs". So what's new in Bloom Box?

Little background info

Okay, so a former NASA engineer named K. R. Sridhar (yeah an Indian guy. What? Are you expecting a Pakistani guy? But we have put all our "resources" to convert everybody to Islam :P. Yeah, that was a joke so get over it. :) ) developed a fuel-cell for NASA (when he was employee there) to produce oxygen on Mars. But as American economy started to topple and with space mission disasters, mission to Mars is way back right now. So he quit and started researching on his own and started a company in 2002. He reversed the same fuel-cell to consume oxygen (instead of producing) and fuel to produce electricity. Some nice work there. He deserve a lot of appreciation there.

How it works?

Well, as with most of other fuel-cells. A basic 4"x4" wafer is created using zirconium dioxide (extracted from sand) and definitely mixed with other oxides to make it stable and prevent cracking when heating and cooling of wafers. Then he put his special secret formula "ink" (paint) on both sides (green on one side and black on other side).

Here is the image of that fuel-cell:

5174500c250538758cb3453575f78a8f33178d5.jpg

That's the fuel-cell. Thin but 4"x4" and it produces about 25 watts electricity which is enough for a light bulb. Now do the math and how many you'll need of these fuel-cells to run your home? :) But this fuel-cell will not be used in this state because it will produce heat in chemical reaction up to 600C to 800C, therefore, it must be cool down properly to keep it within working range of temperature otherwise this ceramic wafer will crack.

What's the fuel?

On one side, the oxygen (air) is supplied and on the other side natural gas (or bio-gas) (in our country it is called Sui Gas) is supplied. A chemical reaction occurs in this fuel-cell and it produces electricity with heat as by-product of reaction. No moving parts and it produce electricity with half amount of fuel needed (compared to our current patrol+gas-kit generators). Because it has no moving parts, it is super quite compare to our noisy generators. The electricity produce is somewhere between 8 to 10 cents. If at 10 cents then it will be around Rs. 8 per k-watts (one unit). Cheaper than WAPDA. :)

Price

Currently company is focusing on supplying to large corporates, rather than small consumers. As of now, each Bloom Box is hand made and one Bloom Box is produced in one day. 100kw Bloom Energy Server is $700,000–800,000. Company will launch home-consumer level boxes of 1kw for about $3000 (Rs. 240,000). About 5 years ago the price was about 25 times more than as of now. Therefore, Sridhar is optimistic that he'll be able to reduce price to $3000 for one-home-units. Currently, company is providing 10 years warranty.

Competition

Bloom is not the only company in fuel-cells. Many giant players are already in it, including General Electronics, United Technologies and Siemens to name a few, but many other companies around the globe (from Germany to Japan) are working on it and many have different patents. Expect much competition in next few years.

Working Samples?

By far after reading all this information and many articles that I searched on Google, I was still skeptic that it might be a clever plot to earn money. But when I saw the list of current customers of Bloom, my confidence raised sharply. Google, eBay, Staples, Walmart, FedEx, Coca-Cola, and Bank of America. Google was the first customer and it has been running there for about 18 (or 16?) months successfully. I am impressed. Not all these companies are going to throw money just for tech gimmicks. It means this device works and they are saving some serious $$$ that's why they are using it and installing it.

Concluding

It is not the ultimate solution for energy needs but it is definitely a good step. I am thinking that if such a device is available for $3000 in Pakistan then I would be happy to get one. Unlike solar, Bloom Box will generate electricity 24 hours. Unlike common generator+gas-kit, Bloom Box only consume half of Sui Gas. It also produces less carbon dioxide too. It is very quite compare to generators. And super of all, no more worry for load-shedding. However, the question is whether the output of our country's Sui Gas will be able to coup with demand, if people start to install Bloom Box?

How about if Pakistani government get large Bloom Boxes directly from this American company and install it on grid-stations and supply Sui Gas to it and distribute electricity. It will be a quick and easy solution to produce electricity that might lower some of load-shedding. I think Pakistani Government should be the first international customer of this device. We have our own resources of Sui Gas then why not use them. We are already using Sui Gas to produce electricity but this device is 100% more efficient then current generators. That's a big incentive for Pakistani Government.

Sources

Bloom Box on 60 minutes:

Bloom Box Launch:

Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloom_Box

Your Opinion

* What do you guys think of it?

* First, watch above given links of video clips. Then post your opinions, thoughts and whether you'll purchase it if it is available in Pakistan in next 5 or 10 years?

* Should Pakistani government invest in Bloom Boxes to produce electricity from Sui Gas with double capacity?

* If Pakistani government purchase it then will it reduce some of our load-shedding?

* What will happen if China make cheap copies of Bloom Box? :) That will be given at the 1/4 rate of real Bloom Box.

* Sridhar also have planes for future (and patents) to produce hydrogen from carbon dioxide and water (while electricity will be given from solar cells). Will this "dream machine" ever be feasible?

* Will Bloom succeed or will GE break it with their product in next few months or a year?

* Is world starts to change in term of energy produced or is it just a hype and we are still going to use whatever we have been using in 20th century?

* Will Bloom Box's fuel-cell work in long run (after 10 or 20 years)?

Start posting, I am waiting for your opinions and thoughts guys. :)

P.S. Yeah, I am excited for this product even after reading negative reviews on internet. :)

This product and similar products are definitely the future. A centralized grid for power distribution is not a very practical idea, and in developing countries where infrastructure is already poor, they don't have the funds to invest in upgrading their grid and this is definitely a viable option. I have heard of the concept of individual power generation units even before the bloom box came out and I always thought it was an excellent idea.

In Pakistan, people are already using 'bloom boxes' (aka generators :) ) since the grid never seems to have enough power. Now if these Bloom Boxes can be made cheaper, and renewable energy sources (solar, wind etc) also incorporated into them, then you have a power revolution in the making!

please summarize this, I don't have time to read this *WALL OF TEXT*

^ If you don't have time to read then why are you posting in this thread? Go away.

first i was stunned i listened the word fuel cell..... coz i think this is also gonna fail like other fuel cells in the past...

the guy says its cheap, then why he need 100billion $ ?

if it is all ready why they need 5-6years for this box to be in our homes?

My Opinion

* What do you guys think of it?

-gonna fail like other fuel cells... but i hope tht will be solution for our future need.

* First, watch above given links of video clips. Then post your opinions, thoughts and whether you'll purchase it if it is available in Pakistan in next 5 or 10 years?

-Yes, i just want to kick Wapda's a$$, ASAP .

* Should Pakistani government invest in Bloom Boxes to produce electricity from Sui Gas with double capacity?

-of course yes, but they will never !!!

* If Pakistani government purchase it then will it reduce some of our load-shedding?

-the guy says it will be in every home, so i dont see load shedding any more.... but u know there is NO place for idealism in this world.

* What will happen if China make cheap copies of Bloom Box? :) That will be given at the 1/4 rate of real Bloom Box.

-If tht works, they will definitely... and many will go for it.

* Sridhar also have planes for future (and patents) to produce hydrogen from carbon dioxide and water (while electricity will be given from solar cells). Will this "dream machine" ever be feasible?

-Lets hope tht it will really work :)

* Will Bloom succeed or will GE break it with their product in next few months or a year?

-no idea !!! cant see future...

* Will Bloom Box's fuel-cell work in long run (after 10 or 20 years)?

-seriously, i dont think so....

[quote=", post:, topic:"]

P.S. Yeah, I am excited for this product even after reading negative reviews on internet. :)

[/quote]

same here :)

This is worth a read: Bloom vs. Solar: Which One is Best?[wired.com/epicenter]

Impressive, as Sah said this and similar technologies/products are going to be future, the intesresting question would be the amount of contribution Bloom box will have in it.

The guy himself K.R Sridhar look very optimistic and the client list is also not less than impressive which makes me believe its not going to be a failure atleast, but probbably telling how big this gona get is not easy yet.

Developing countries like ours can definitely benefit from it, though I believe it can not replace all current methods of electricity production either in developing courties or developed countries, the future would be a mix of different methods , each requiring a difference source of energy , everything can not run on natural gas, neither on solar energy, neitehr on Wind energy, neither on current oil based major contributors.

The cheaper, more effiecient ones will going to have more share and Bloom box do have potential to become one of major contributors.

Yeah whatever. Let the americans spend billions developing this tech. We'll enjoy the fruits of their hard work in 10-15 years time. By that time it'll have become a commodity and you'll be able to buy one of these bread box sized devices that can power your home for 10 years at the cost of Rs. 100 :)

[quote=", post:, topic:"]
^ If you don't have time to read then why are you posting in this thread? Go away.
[/quote]

Its a legitimate concern. Sometimes we forget that its hard to read stuff on monitor so we should keep it short. I myself am guilty of this on occasion.

^ It is not a legitimate concern. The very purpose of a forum is to read and write, and the original post really wasn't that long. Usually online articles end up being much longer. Anyways, I thought the 'issue' was rather absurd and that is why I said that. Don't want to drag this on, so lets drop it.

[quote=", post:, topic:"]

This product and similar products are definitely the future. A centralized grid for power distribution is not a very practical idea, and in developing countries where infrastructure is already poor, they don’t have the funds to invest in upgrading their grid and this is definitely a viable option. I have heard of the concept of individual power generation units even before the bloom box came out and I always thought it was an excellent idea.

In Pakistan, people are already using ‘bloom boxes’ (aka generators :) ) since the grid never seems to have enough power. Now if these Bloom Boxes can be made cheaper, and renewable energy sources (solar, wind etc) also incorporated into them, then you have a power revolution in the making!

[/quote]

My sentiments exactly. Fuel-cells are the future. The good thing about them is that there is no one kind of fuel-cell. They can be made for many purposes, including interim uses like Bloom Box and future uses that may utilize solar and/or wind technologies.

Right now a lot of work is being done in solar. 40% efficiency multi-spectrum solar cells will hit market either this year or next year (they are in final stages of research and production). Thin and flexible solar cells are also very promising, that’s why China is also investing in producing and using them.

Wind also have an advantage that it can work even in evening or night when there is no sun in sky. Another promising renewable energy field is utilizing power of tides. A large underwater turbine that will rotate very slowly that way it will not threaten sea life but it will have enough torque to produce large amount of electricity using even single turbine. Very promising for countries who have sea boundaries.

The only weak point (I won’t say it as a problem) of solar and wind is the storage of energy they produce. Current battery technology is inefficient. Lithium-ion is better than previous but still not there yet. Maybe super-capacitors or some new technology of batteries or maybe something different altogether will be the solution to cheaply store energy while have good life span.

Whereas, Bloom Box is a good interim solution as the flow of fuel can be control depending on electricity needed thus no need to use batteries. It works 24 hours even when there is no sun. That’s also a plus point for Bloom Box. Yet it is not the perfect solution for future but a lot better than current inefficient generators that uses internal combustion engines.

I also agree that IPG could also benefit not only common consumers but also country at large. USA has transmission loses (in Pakistan we call it line-loses) of around 7.2%. When I placed some calls to find out about Pakistan, some of my sources claimed that Pakistan has line-loses somewhere between 20% to 30% (though, I am not sure). But that’s so huge. And it is due to old and dieing infrastructure of transmission lines.

I think Bloom Box and fuel-cell in general are the future of this world’s energy needs. Troubled economic times and higher fuel prices are a major driving forces to develop new technologies that might change the map of future world.

While we might not realize, that future is here, right now. :)

[quote=", post:, topic:"]

please summarize this, I don’t have time to read this WALL OF TEXT
[/quote]

Dear, I tried to break it into sections so that people can read the section they have interest in. Secondly, it took me a lot more time in researching and writing it then it will take you for reading it. :)

Summarizing it won’t be that easy because try to think how you can summarize “cellphone” to a person who have never saw or heard of “cellphone”.

Even then here is some summary:

Bloom Box is stacked fuel-cells that take in liquid or gaseous hydrocarbons and oxygen and produces electricity. It consumes half amount of fuel compared to current generation of electricity through [electricity generator + petrol/diesel internal combustion engine + gas-kit] or compared to fossil fuel powered steam engine electricity generators used by Pakistani IPPs.

I think that’s the best way to summaries Bloom Box. If you have any question or want more information then you can read my first post. :)

[quote=", post:, topic:"]

first i was stunned i listened the word fuel cell… coz i think this is also gonna fail like other fuel cells in the past…

the guy says its cheap, then why he need 100billion $ ?

if it is all ready why they need 5-6years for this box to be in our homes?

[/quote]

Well, K. R. Sridhar is not asking for money. Right now Bloom Energy (the company who make Bloom Box) is focusing on corporate clients. They have very impressive list of corporate clients.

Quoting from Wikipedia’s article:

[quote=", post:, topic:"]
The company says that its first 100kw Bloom Energy Servers were shipped to Google in July 2008. Four Bloom Servers to make up to 400 kW (kilowatts) were installed at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, who were Bloom Energy’s first customer. Another installation is for five boxes to make up to 500 kW at eBay headquarters in San Jose, California. Bloom Energy states that their customers include Staples (300kw - Dec 2008), Walmart (800kw - Jan 2010), FedEx (500kw), The Coca-Cola Company (500kw) and Bank of America (500kw).
[/quote]

Obviously not all these corporates are buying it as expensive tech toy. After all, these large corporates must have investigated the Bloom Boxes and they must be saving some serious $$$, that’s why they purchased and are using Bloom Boxes.

K. R. Sridhar want to lower the price furthermore so that a house owner can buy 1kw Bloom Box for $3000.

As of now, all Bloom Boxes are hand made and production rate is one Bloom Box in one day. They are not yet in mass production level. When Bloom Energy company will start mass production it will surely reduce production cost further and then common customer will be able to buy it.

But for that, we’ll have to wait somewhere between 3 years to 10 years. Hopefully, between 3 to 5 years :)

[quote=", post:, topic:"]

This is worth a read: Bloom vs. Solar: Which One is Best?[wired.com/epicenter]
[/quote]

I had already read that article but from the original website, Greentech Media. I have also read other Greentech Media articles about Bloom Box and some articles by other blogs from Silicon Valley and outside of it.

Greentech Media is main critics of Bloom Box and he did raised some valid points. One point is that Bloom Box after all still uses hydrocarbon fuel (fossil fuel/bio-fuel). That’s why Bloom Box is not solution for every energy need in future. Solar is definitely better future-solution than Bloom Box. But even K. R. Sridhar is not claiming Bloom Box as “solution for all future energy needs”. It is an interim solution, while solar, wind and other renewable technologies will be the ultimate solution for future energy needs.

But Bloom Box is indeed a very positive step in forward direction.

[quote=", post:, topic:"]

Impressive, as Sah said this and similar technologies/products are going to be future, the intesresting question would be the amount of contribution Bloom box will have in it.

The guy himself K.R Sridhar look very optimistic and the client list is also not less than impressive which makes me believe its not going to be a failure atleast, but probbably telling how big this gona get is not easy yet.

Developing countries like ours can definitely benefit from it, though I believe it can not replace all current methods of electricity production either in developing courties or developed countries, the future would be a mix of different methods , each requiring a difference source of energy , everything can not run on natural gas, neither on solar energy, neitehr on Wind energy, neither on current oil based major contributors.

The cheaper, more effiecient ones will going to have more share and Bloom box do have potential to become one of major contributors.

[/quote]

Indeed, there couldn’t be any one “dream technology” that solve all energy need problems around the world. The future, as in the past, will have mix technologies. Not only the production of energy is getting efficient but also the consumer level machines being in use.

But the major problem is in the production of energy. As of now, a very large portion of world is still using inefficient 20th century machines. We do need to advance new technologies that are more efficient than current energy production technologies. Bloom Box is indeed a good step in forward direction.

Just as not everybody is using hybrid car in west or CNG car in Pakistan, similarly not everybody will be using Bloom Box. But just like hybrid cars and CNG cars did a positive step in forward direction so does Bloom Box.

But rest assure, future will hold different types of fuel-cells in energy production. :)

[quote=", post:, topic:"]

Its a legitimate concern. Sometimes we forget that its hard to read stuff on monitor so we should keep it short. I myself am guilty of this on occasion.
[/quote]

Well, I agree with sah. Forums are way too different from IM chat or SMS/Texting. :) They are definitely not one-liners of majority of Facebook/MySpace “guestbook” style pages :)

After all, we are here to discuss technology. If we won’t do that in these forums then what else we’ll do here? Trouble-shooting should not be major part of an independent forum, whereas discussion of tech should be.

The bread-box size costing Rs. 100 to produce enough electricity for whole house is yet a dream machine, not feasible with current technology (a similar device was shown in Back To The Future movie. Do you remember it? :) ). But we never know for certain about distant future. But as for now, Bloom Box, a lot of other fuel-cells, solar, wind and other renewable technologies are very promising. :)

The bloom box is mostly hype.

First of all, the box is huge and costs over $700,000. The $3000 "home version" does not exist and the inventor himself said it'll take years to reach that level unless it gets accepted real quick by many users.

Secondly, the bloom box is not the first one in the market...there is another company which sells a fuel cell very similar to the bloom box (uses oxygen and fuel source to produce electricity, much like the bloom box), and has been out for many years.

Thirdly, it uses natural gas as its fuel source, and the company hasn't given out many benchmarks (i.e. how much gas it uses per unit time of operation)...so unless you have gas piped to your place at a cheap rate, it will cost more money to use the bloom box than to buy from the electricity company. It may be cheap to use in Pakistan though...but then we're running out of natural gas :(

Its still in its infancy, so definitely it is going to be expensive, but I think in ten years we might be see this item cheap for public.

If the world's armies invests then we might see this cheap in a few years.

@KA

I am not saying that Pakistani government should buy Bloom Boxes and distribute in general public. What I meant is that Pakistani government is seriously thinking about wind turbines and electricity from coal reserves. Though they are pretty slow on this.

Moreover, Pakistani government is trying to coup a little bit by using expensive rental power plants to produce some extra electricity. It shows the some people in government are trying to do something (whether they have kick-backs is another debate).

That is why, I suggested that Pakistani government should also invest in Bloom Boxes, along with wind turbines at Karachi, coal power plants at Tharr, new hydro power dams, new nuclear power plants at Chasma, and Bloom Boxes to produce efficient (100% extra) electricity from our natural gas reserves. That's the only way to coup the energy needs of country and produce more electricity.

[quote=", post:, topic:"]

Its still in its infancy, so definitely it is going to be expensive, but I think in ten years we might be see this item cheap for public.

If the world’s armies invests then we might see this cheap in a few years.

[/quote]

I agree with you. That’s why Bloom Energy is trying to sell their Bloom Boxes to American army. That’s why they took Colin Powell on their board. Right now, American army have to use generators (running on petrol or diesel) on far army posts. Bloom Box can be used instead of those generators. It is quiet and it produces double electricity compare to current generators. If American army purchases large amount of Bloom Boxes for themselves then it is definitely going to push industrial production (instead of current hand-made) of Bloom Boxes resulting in lowering the prices for general public.