Is Bloom Energy’s Secret Ingredient Zirconia?
Bloom Energy held its big coming out party last night on 60 Minutes. And while founder K.R. Sridhar went over the potential and promise of the company's Bloom boxes, he got a little vague when it came to what makes it tick.
The system converts methane or other hydrocarbons into electricity by mixing it with oxygen and then passing the gas mixture through ceramic plates coated with proprietary inks at high temperatures. What are the inks made of? He wouldn't say. (You can see me in the video too, Mom.)
A U.S. patent filed in 2006 and granted to Bloom in 2009, however, seems to indicate yttria stabilized zirconia. Do I know what that is? No. But the invention described in the patent seems to describe the box that Bloom wants to make. The patent application also calls for electrodes comprised of platinum family metals. Platinum, one of the world's more expensive metals, has been the bane of fuel cell makers. It simply raises the price too high. Platinum is also an element in catalytic converters. Start-up Nanostellar has come up with powders that help get around the problem for the car industry. Some of Nanostellar's powders contain gold, but the powders are cheaper than standard platinum, CEO Pankaj Dhingra tells us....MORE
And from earth2tech:10 Fuel Cell Startups Hot on Bloom Energy’s Trail
...stationary fuel cells — devices that chemically convert hydrogen into electricity and water, or hydrogen-containing fuels into power, water and various byproducts — are already a highly-populated industry. Players such as United Technologies, Ballard Power Systems, Plug Power, FuelCell Energy and Panasonic are churning out stationary fuel cells, mainly to provide backup power, generate electricity for remote applications or meet a company’s low-emissions energy production goals. But making fuel cells that can produce electricity as costs that are competitive with grid power — Bloom Energy’s goal — has remained out of reach so far.
That challenge, of course, is a siren’s song for venture capitalists looking for the next fuel cell startup with technology that can bridge that critical gap. And while Bloom Energy has raised more VC investment than many of these startups combined, it isn’t unique in aiming its sights at the holy grail of grid parity. Here are 10 startups that could be hot on Bloom Energy’s trail:
ClearEdge Power: The Hillsboro, Ore.-based startup has spent 7 years developing a stationary fuel cell that runs on natural gas or propane, aimed at providing both electricity and heat to homes and small businesses. It’s raised about $55 million in venture capital, and most recently landed $11 million in January, with investors including Kohlberg Ventures, Applied Ventures, Big Basin Partners. ClearEdge has reported initial shipments of a $50,000, 5-kilowatt fuel cell unit aimed first at the California market.
Combined heat and power (CHP) generation, or creating both useful heat and electricity from a single source, is the goal of Bloom Energy, as well as many other fuel cell makers. Particularly companies like Bloom that use solid oxide fuel cell technology, are looking at CHP because that technology runs hotter than the polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells, which are more typically aimed at vehicular or portable applications.
Ceres Power: Ceres Power is an Imperial College London spinout based in Redhill, U.K., which has raised about $75 million to develop stationary fuel cells that generate electricity and heat for homes using methane, that is, natural gas. In May, it announced the successful test of a 1-kilowatt unit with British Gas, a milestone that came with a £2 million ($3.10 million) payment from the utility with a promise of more to come. In December Ceres announced the start-up of a manufacturing line it hoped to bring to commercial-scale production through the course of this year....MORE