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2/22/2010
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Bloom Unveiling Clean Energy Fuel Cell

Google, FedEx, and Wal-Mart have been testing the Bloom Box, a fuel cell that combines oxygen with a fuel source to generate enough electricity to power a data center.

A Silicon Valley startup plans to unveil this week a fuel cell capable of producing clean energy in amounts sufficient to power homes and corporations.

Bloom Energy gave the CBS news program 60 Minutes a peek at the green technology the company plans to launch on Wednesday. The company is backed by venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, which discovered and funded Amazon, Google, and other high-tech firms.

Bloom Energy did not respond to a request for comment by InformationWeek in time for this writing.

Company founder K.R. Sridhar told 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl that he invented a new kind of fuel cell that produces electricity through a chemical reaction created by combining oxygen in the air with any fuel source, including natural gas, bio-gas, and solar energy.

One of Bloom's test companies is Google, which has used the company's technology to power a data center for 18 months. Google has been using natural gas as the energy source, but has used only half as much as would be required by a traditional power plant, Sridhar told Stahl. Other companies testing the technology include FedEx and Wal-Mart.

Details of the technology remain a secret and very little information is available on the company's Web site. Sridhar told 60 Minutes that he uses sand in creating a ceramic that he coats with green and black "inks" that he developed along with a secret formula. The thin fuel cells can then be stacked in a container that becomes a kind of power plant-in-a-box. A stack of 64 fuel cells in a Bloom box is sufficient to power a Starbucks.

Sridhar's energy box stems from oxygen-producing technology he invented for NASA so people could live on Mars. Sridhar took his technology into the commercial world after NASA scrapped the Mars mission.

The Bloom box is not cheap. Sridhar told 60 Minutes each box installed in FedEx, for example, cost from $700,000 to $800,000. In time, Sridhar believes a box capable of powering the average U.S. home could eventually cost less than $3,000.

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