Monday, February 22, 2010

Bloom Energy on 60 Minutes: "Can You Believe the Hype" (BLDP; FCEL; PLUG; GE; SI)

UPDATE II: "Is the Bloom Energy Payback Period 15 Years?"
"If Bloom takes off, it could be a disaster for the costume jewelry industry." and "10 Fuel Cell Startups Hot on Bloom Energy’s Trail"
Original post:
I am wary of claims for fuel cells, if for no other reason than the hype that surrounded companies like Ballard (the stock traded at $129 in February 2000, $2.25 on Friday) Plug Power and Fuel Cell Energy.

That said I'd love to see a cheaper source of electricity than solar or even wind. I was disgusted when I read this last October:

...The European Commission's new proposal to boost solar technology development focuses too much on research and not enough on deploying commercial technologies, said the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) Wednesday.

The EPIA also voiced concerns that the proposal would not receive sufficient funding and is lobbying for more public money to be set aside to support the solar industry's growth....

That followed a couple August 2009 posts:

"Solar Industry: No Breakthroughs Needed":

...Representatives of the solar industry say the federal government should do more to remove obstacles that are slowing the industry's development. One issue is financing for new solar installations, which can be much more expensive if lending institutions deem them high risk. A recent extension of federal tax credits and grants for solar investments is a step in the right direction, many solar experts say. But more could be done. A price on carbon would help make solar more economically competitive and more attractive to lenders.....MORE

"Nope, don't want none o'them breakthroughs."

And: "Sports owner creates more efficient solar technology"

An interesting followup to the post immediately below. If I were the entrenched interests in the solar biz I wouldn't want any disruptive technology upsetting my applecart.
[those clichés/metaphors aren't just mixed, they're puréed -ed]

Here's 60 Minutes on Bloom Energy:

Watch CBS News Videos Online

For those who can read faster than they watch, here's the transcript from CBS:

The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough?

60 Minutes: First Customers Says Energy Machine Works And Saves Money

In the world of energy, the Holy Grail is a power source that's inexpensive and clean, with no emissions. Well over 100 start-ups in Silicon Valley are working on it, and one of them, Bloom Energy, is about to make public its invention: a little power plant-in-a-box they want to put literally in your backyard.

You'll generate your own electricity with the box and it'll be wireless. The idea is to one day replace the big power plants and transmission line grid, the way the laptop moved in on the desktop and cell phones supplanted landlines.

It has a lot of smart people believing and buzzing, even though the company has been unusually secretive - until now.

K.R. Sridhar invited "60 Minutes" correspondent Lesley Stahl for a first look at the innards of the Bloom box that he has been toiling on for nearly a decade.

Full Segment: The Bloom Box
Web Extra: The Magic Box
Web Extra: Plug-In Power Plant
Web Extra: Naming The Bloom Box
Web Extra: A Skeptic's View

Looking at one of the boxes, Sridhar told Stahl it could power an average U.S. home.

"The way we make it is in two blocks. This is a European home. The two put together is a U.S. home," he explained.

"'Cause we use twice as much energy, is that what you're saying?" Stahl asked.

"Yeah, and this'll power four Asian homes," he replied.

"So four homes in India, your native country?" Stahl asked.

"Four to six homes in our country," Sridhar replied.

"It sounds awfully dazzling," Stahl remarked.

"It is real. It works," he replied.

He says he knows it works because he originally invented a similar device for NASA. He really is a rocket scientist.

"This invention, working on Mars, would have allowed the NASA administrator to pick up a phone and say, 'Mr. President, we know how to produce oxygen on Mars,'" Sridhar told Stahl.

"So this was going to produce oxygen so people could actually live on Mars?" she asked.

"Absolutely," Sridhar replied.

When NASA scrapped that Mars mission, Sridhar had an idea: he reversed his Mars machine. Instead of it making oxygen, he pumped oxygen in.

He invented a new kind of fuel cell, which is like a very skinny battery that always runs. Sridhar feeds oxygen to it on one side, and fuel on the other. The two combine within the cell to create a chemical reaction that produces electricity. There's no need for burning or combustion, and no need for power lines from an outside source.

In October 2001 he managed to get a meeting with John Doerr from the big Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins....

...Bloom is among the most expensive. "I heard actually so far, not just from Kleiner Perkins, but total $400 million," Stahl remarked.

"You're in the ballpark," Sridhar acknowledged.

With that kind of money comes a lot of buzz. "In Silicon Valley, every time a company raises over $100 million, and they haven't come out with a product yet, everybody starts getting the heebie-jeebies," Michael Kanellos, editor-in-chief of the Web site GreenTech Media, told Stahl.

Kanellos admitted he is skeptical. "I'm hopeful but I'm skeptical. 'Cause people have tried fuel cells since the 1830s," he explained. "And they're great ideas, right? You just need producing energy at an instant. But they're not easy. They're like the divas of industrial equipment. You have to put platinum inside there. You've got zirconium. The little plates inside have to work not just for an hour or a day, but they have to work for 30 years, nonstop. And then the box has to be cheap to make."

One thing stoking his skepticism: Sridhar has been hyper-secretive - there's no sign on his building, a cryptic Web site, and no public progress reports.

Given the stealthiness, we were surprised when Sridhar showed us - for the very first time - how he makes the "secret sauce" of his fuel cell on the cheap. ...MORE

Here's some commentary from Greentech:

Video: The Bloom Box Lands, And The Unanswered Questions Are…

...But Bloom still has a lot more questions to answer at its corporate event on Wednesday. Such as:

--The Bloom box emits carbon dioxide. How much per kilowatt? How does it compare to power plants? Do you get twice the power for the same amount of carbon dioxide? Better?

--Some of Bloom's patents talk about how its fuel cell can take the carbon dioxide, water, and some of the electricity produced by the first reaction and running it through the fuel cell again to produce oxygen and a methane like fuel. The idea came out of research conducted at Nasa to develop a box that could produce oxygen to support life on Mars. Is they company still pursuing that? Or is that currently too difficult of a challenge? Converting carbon dioxide into a fuel with energy from a reaction that created the carbon dioxide in the first place pushes the laws of thermodynamics.

--What are the catalysts made from? K.R. Sridhar, the founder and CEO, says it isn't platinum. The patents mention zirconium. On the show, Sridhar showed off some dyes but didn't say what was inside.

--John Doerr at Kleiner Perkins says that utiilties may buy it in put it in people's houses or buildings. That seems to confirm what we've heard, but we will hopefully get a final word Wendesday.

--How does the cost of the box compare with solar, wind and standard power. The incentives are great: the federal government gives buyers a 30 percent tax credit and California buyers get a few dollars per kilowatt of the price back from the state. Plus, owners can sell excess power back to the grid in the state. Still, how does it compare?

--And what are conglomerates like Siemens and General Electric doing? How fast will Bloom have to keep up to stay ahead of them. The guy in this second video wants to know....MORE

And from earth2tech:

10 Things to Know About Bloom Energy

Eight years and close to $400 million later, ultra-stealthy fuel cell maker Bloom Energy is finally ready to officially launch and ditch its “stealth-mode” status. The company started its first ever media blitz on Sunday with a video on 60 Minutes, an article in Fortune, and soon to be followed by the unveiling media event on Wednesday.

But while the public is just starting to hear the Bloom Energy name, greentech watchers have been scrambling for every little bit of information about Bloom Energy for years. Founder K.R. Sridhar told Fortune that the company is going public now because its Fortune 500 customers want to be able to brag about it as a green move. Here’s 10 things that you should know about Bloom Energy:

1). It’s doing something that many are tackling: While Bloom Energy is now positioning itself as revolutionary — that will replace the power grid no less — fuel cells have been under development by endless amounts of companies for decades. Any consumer electronics company from Samsung to Sharp, or auto maker, from Hyundai to Toyota, has researchers developing fuel cell technology. Fuel cell patents have consistently remained at the top of the list of out of greentech patents filed every year according to Clean Energy Patent Growth Index (CEPGI). The problem is that fuel cells have remained too expensive. We’ll see if Bloom can get those costs down.

2). It’s far from a residential play: Bloom’s first customers are big tech companies like eBay and Google that have been using the large Bloom Boxes, which cost between $700,000 to $800,000, to power campuses and data centers. But Sridhar tells 60 Minutes that in 5 to 10 years the company hopes to deliver a smaller Bloom box for under $3,000 for the residential market. Both that price tag and that time frame seem waaay too optimistic — I’d say at least double both estimates for a more realistic plan.

3). Kleiner’s Big Bet: Bloom Energy was famed venture capital fund Kleiner Perkin’s first foray into greentech and Sridhar tells Fortune that he was “the evangelist who opened the company’s eyes to its huge potential.” Kleiner needs a successful company in greentech to justify its investments post-dot com — will Bloom be it?

4). Bloom Energy IPO?: Even when Bloom was still in stealth an IPO was being discussed. Kleiner partner John Doerr said at an event late last year that he’d wager Bloom will take “nine years to a successful public offering.” So, I guess that means one more year to go?>>>MORE