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Adobe looks to Bloom boxes for electricity

A dozen Bloom Energy fuel cell servers will power one-third of Adobe's San Jose, Calif., headquarters.

Bloom Energy
Twelve Bloom Energy boxes like this one will be installed at Adobe's headquarters in San Jose, Calif.
Bloom Energy

Adobe has hired Bloom Energy to install enough fuel cell servers to provide one-third of all electricity for Adobe's San Jose, Calif., headquarters, both companies announced today.

Specifically, Bloom will install 12 of its fuel cell servers on the fifth floor of Adobe's West Tower at the campus. Each Bloom box, as the company calls them, is roughly the size of a small van and contains thousands of ceramic fuel cells that can convert fuel and oxygen from the air into an electric current. For the Adobe installation, the units will use biogas for fuel.

One Bloom box can produce enough electricity to power one 30,000-square-foot office building, or 100 average U.S. homes, according to company statistics.The installation is part of Adobe's long-term goal of reducing its carbon footprint by 121.5 million pounds in 10 years. It's also a victory for the start-up energy technology company.

While Bloom Energy already counts Bank of America, eBay, FedEx, Google, and Wal-Mart among its clientele, and John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers among its investors, it's been met with a lot of criticism since its start in 2001.

Analysts have expressed doubt about the company's grand claims, some of them made on CNET parent company CBS' television show "60 Minutes," and pointed out that Bloom's technology, while innovative, is not entirely unique. Others are skeptical of the company's claim that in the long-term a Bloom box provides electricity for as little as 10 cents per kilowatt-hour including maintenance.

Currently, each Bloom 100kW unit is reportedly sold for between $700,000 and $800,000. Some see that as too expensive to be a practical energy solution for most.

And while they're more commonly developed for use with vehicles, solid oxide fuel cells have been around for years. Bloom Energy is not the only one making them for stationary energy storage. FuelCell Energy and ClearEdge Power also make fuel cells for supplying electricity to buildings.

But the Bloom box has some very notable features.

For one, it can work with either biogas or natural gas, making it capable of tapping into existing natural gas lines. Second, the unit is designed to recycle the heat it generates from the fuel/air conversion and feed it back into the system to make more electricity. Third, the fuel cells themselves are relatively cheap to make. While the proprietary technology has been held close to the company's vest, Bloom Energy has said that it's managed to make the ceramic fuel cells from sand and inks instead of using a more expensive material like platinum.