A new fuel cell technology called Bloom Box, used to provide sustainable energy to the mass-market, owes its genesis to a NASA project to sustain life on Mars
eBay has bought into new fuel cell technology as one of the first customers of the Bloom Energy Server, which promises cheap and sustainable energy for the mass-market.
Launched at an event at the online marketplace specialist’s HQ in San Francisco, attended by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and General Colin Powell, the so-called Bloom Box is roughly the size of an SUV car and can be installed by companies outside their offices to generate electricity.
According to eBay chief executive John Donahoe, the company has had five Bloom Boxes in place for nearly nine months. “eBay believes in the power of our business model to make a real difference in the world, and that includes how we embrace innovation to reduce our carbon footprint,” said Donahoe. “When Bloom came to us, it was an easy decision to become an early-adopter of their cutting-edge new technology. As a result, we’re meeting financial and environmental goals with the project while fueling a more energy efficient global marketplace.”
The Bloom Box fuel cell works by converting air and a variety of fuel sources – from natural gas to biogas – into electricity via what the Bloom Energy Corporation describes as an “electrochemical process rather than dirty combustion”. Each server consists of thousands of flat, solid ceramic squares made from a common sand-like “powder”, the company said.
eBay’s Bloom Boxes generated around 2 million kWh of electricity, or enough to power over 150 average US homes for over a year, in the first six months, the company said. Other customers include search giant Google, and Bloom Energy Corporation states that customers can expect a three to five year payback on their investment from energy savings. The fuel cell maker also says customers can expect to see a 40 to 100 percent reduction in their carbon footprint compared to the US power grid.
“Bloom Energy is dedicated to making clean, reliable energy affordable for everyone in the world,” said Dr. KR Sridhar, principal co-founder and chief executive of Bloom Energy. “We believe that we can have the same kind of impact on energy that the mobile phone had on communications. Just as cell phones circumvented landlines to proliferate telephony, Bloom Energy will enable the adoption of distributed power as a smarter, localised energy source.”
Sridhar said that inspiration for the Bloom Box can be traced back to work done for NASA to help sustain life on Mars which used solar energy and water to produce air for breathing and fuel. “They soon realised that their technology could have an even greater impact here on Earth and began work on what would become the Bloom Energy Server,” the company said.