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Emerging Fuel Cell Maker Gets Vote of Confidence

AT&T doubles the amount of fuel cell energy it will buy from Bloom

2 min read
Emerging Fuel Cell Maker Gets Vote of Confidence

At a time when so many of the clean tech startups supported by venture capital or government grants are on the ropes or failing, it's refreshing to hear of one that is doing better than ever. Bloom Energy, the Sunnyvale company that makes an advanced solid oxide fuel cell, will be selling twice the quantity of fuel cell energy  it expected to AT&T, which plans to power data centers, administrative offices and customer service operations. The company had made news earlier this year when eBay announced it would install a 6 MW fuel cell bank made by Bloom at an expanding data center in Utah, making that the biggest single non-utility fuel cell installation ever. 

An important element in Bloom's recent market successes, notes Earth2Tech's Katie Fehrenbacher, is its wilingness to sell "energy as a service," in an arrangement that permits companies to commit to fuel cell energy purchases over a ten year period without having to purchase the novel fuel cells themselves. That transfers risk associated with the new technology from the users of the energy to the provider—and so, taking that into account, the current good news for Bloom could translate to bad news down the road, if its cells do not perform as well as the company believes they will.

Right now, however, energy-devouring data centers are proving to be a boon for makers of stationary fuels cells, both new entrants like Bloom and traditional manufacturers like Fuel Cell Energy, improving prospects for an entire business that had been in the doldrums, when utility demand failed to be as strong as once hoped. Better overall prospects mean more opportunities all around. Thus, Fuel Cell Energy, based in Danbury, Conn., has just entered into a US $6 million cost-sharing agreement with the Department of Energy to develop a solid oxide fuel cell variant that will run on syngas obtained from coal.

Less than two years ago, when Bloom launched its first press campaign and was featured on CBS television's "60 Minutes," it encountered some skepticism in the general press. London's Financial Times noted that Bloom was benefiting from big California subsidies and that some of its development had been rather secretive. For now, anyway, Bloom's position would seem to be secure..



The Conversation (0)
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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