A big deal is on the way for California’s Bloom Energy.
On Tuesday, AT&T (NYSE: T) announced a plan to install 7.5 megawatts of Bloom Boxes at 11 different office locations in California.
Bloom Boxes are Bloom Energy’s pride and joy – the fuel cells resemble mini-fridges and create energy using oxygen and some form of fuel.
Bloom Boxes can run off of anything from natural gas to biogas. They are unique for the wide variety of gases that are capable of fueling them.
They were invented by CEO of Bloom Energy K.R. Sridhar, who had initially been in charge of creating a device to produce oxygen on Mars for NASA. The Bloom Box is a reversal of this process.
Just last year, we told you a bit more in depth about Bloom Energy, a company not yet a decade old, and the product they offer.
The Bloom Box is a mini power plant based on fuel cell technology. Fuel cells use an electrochemical (not thermal) process to separate the protons and electrons of the fuel and then pass the electrons through a circuit to generate electricity. At the end of the process, the protons and electrons recombine along with oxygen.
If the fuel is pure hydrogen, the emissions will be pure water, but if the fuel is a hydrocarbon, emissions will also contain carbon dioxide.
Fuel cells aren’t new. The first was invented by a Swiss-German chemist named Christian Friedrich Schönbein in 1838, and at least 20 different designs now exist. A long history of companies has attempted to bring a cost-effective and practical device to market, and in the last decade hundreds of millions of dollars have been poured into their research and development…
…What’s new about the Bloom Box is that it claims to be high efficiency (producing more power with less waste heat than other fuel cells), small, relatively cheap, and able to run on a variety of fuels including natural gas, landfill gas, and biogas. Its solid oxide design reportedly uses zirconium oxide for the proton-exchange membrane.
AT&T struck a deal with Bloom Energy to receive 75 Bloom Boxes, each producing 100kW of power.
This would be a total of 62 million kilowatt-hours per year, enough to power an estimated 5,600 homes.
Each Bloom Box can cost anywhere from $700,000 to $800,000 apiece, making the deal worth $52 to $60 million.
AT&T would use the power for offices and network equipment, according to Gigaom.
It is part of the company’s attempt to cut down on carbon emissions, shortly following a foray into 19 solar projects that should be running by 2011.
The Bloom Boxes are expected to be operating at AT&T facilities around mid-2012, and officials hope to cut emissions by 50%.
Bloom Energy has also supplied their fuel cells to big name California-based companies such as Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY), and Adobe (NASDAQ: ABDE).
Recently they have been working on a deal with Delaware’s Delmarva Power & Light, one of their largest out-of-state projects.
Utility companies in general, however, have not shown the interest desired by Bloom Energy. The fuel cells may require a bit more advancement before they can efficiently produce what utilities require.
But for now, some big name companies seem to be finding them to be a good investment, and that could provide the help Bloom Energy needs.
That’s all for now,