Bloom Box: What 60 Minutes left out

The '60 Minutes' Bloom Box spot revealed a lot about the clean-energy 'power house.' Here's information that didn't air on TV.

The '60 Minutes' Bloom Box spot introduced many to this mini power plant, but much is still unknown about its maker, Bloom Energy.

The "60 Minutes" Bloom Box segment Sunday night introduced the world to a previously anonymous and intensely secretive company with a very attractive message: Cheap, clean energy that flows almost magically from a refrigerator-sized box.

This TV debut – a big scoop for CBS News – brought viewers behind the scenes of Bloom Energy and two of its customers, eBay and Google. But the television spot didn't tell the whole story. Several chunks of the interview were Web-exclusive and other news organizations have uncovered new perspective on the team behind Bloom Box.

Monitor colleague Mike Farrell reports that experts are skeptical about whether Mr. Sridhar, who has already raised about $400 million to produce his boxes, can bring expensive fuel cell technology to the masses. You can read more about it here.

How green is it really?

In case you've not read how the Bloom Box system works, each "power plant-in-a-box" come chock full of thin fuel cells, bundled and packaged into an outdoor-safe case. The individual cells soak up oxygen on one side, "and fuel on the other. The two combine within the cell to create a chemical reaction that produces electricity," reported CBS last night. "There's no need for burning or combustion" but it still requires some form of fuel to work. What kind is up to the owner.

"Our system can use fossil fuels like natural gas. Our system can use renewable fuels like landfill gas, bio-gas," Sridhar says. "We can use solar."

In some cases, CO2 is still being emitted by whatever power is feeding the Bloom Box. Rather than calling this new device "zero emission energy," maybe it's better to think of it as a booster pack for already-green sources and as an impressive new filter for dirty ones.

How does installation work?

Bloom Energy says hooking up one of its $700,000 to $800,000 Boxes is simple. "It takes one guy on a forklift and one technician on the ground to install it," explains a Bloom Energy employee in one of CBS's Web exclusive clips. "[The forklift] brings the box up and it gets guided into place and as we lift it into place, we're gonna make three simple mechanical connections and connect the box and start it up."

Where did the name come from?

"We had an employee contest," Sridhar told CBS in another Web exclusive clips. "Employees could give in names. And whoever came up with the name would get a trip to Hawaii."

Sridhar's 9-year-old son wanted to help. Of course, the child could not enter the contest – that would be a conflict of interest, his father pointed out. But the little guy insisted that he wasn't interested in the reward and wanted to submit his idea anonymously.

"The name Bloom Energy kept coming to the top, which was his submission," Sridhar says. "And I tried to dissuade my team from sticking to that name without telling them why.... And his idea was ' life will bloom.' 'Children will bloom.' 'The environment will bloom.' 'Jobs will bloom.' 'Isn't that what you're working so hard for, Dad?' "

What's next?

Bloom Energy's website currently shows a ticking clock, counting down until the company's official coming-out party Wednesday. Bloom Box customer eBay will host the event at its California headquarters, where several Bloom Boxes have supplied power for months now. The VIP invite list reportedly includes former secretary of state and Bloom board member Colin Powell and California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

[Editor's note: The story has been updated from its original form to better explain the technology.]


Optimistic? Skeptical? Let us know in the comments below, and follow the Horizons blog on Twitter and Facebook for more sci-tech news.

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