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Bloom Energy to build a box a day

The company has 50 of its 100-kilowatt fuel cell systems deployed and expects to have double that number working by the end of the year.

Silicon Valley start-up Bloom Energy, which makes fuel cell boxes that can power buildings, expects to be producing one of its boxes per day in the next few months, its chief executive and co-founder said.

The main limitation on the growth of the business, since it is based on a new technology, is building a supply chain to feed it, Chief Executive K.R. Sridhar said yesterday.

"As the supply chain is ramping up, then we can ramp up, and at no point will our internal capacity become the bottleneck," he told the Reuters Climate Change and Alternative Energy Summit in San Francisco. "If we don't plan it that way, then we get ahead of our headlights."

K.R. Sridhar, CEO of Bloom Energy
K.R. Sridhar, CEO of Bloom Energy, shows off one of the finished fuel cells that goes into the Bloom box stack, at the company's coming-out event in February 2010. Josh Lowensohn/CNET

The company, with about 500 employees, has 50 systems deployed and expects to have double that number working by the end of the year, said Sridhar, who wants to be producing far more boxes to meet what he calls "robust" demand.

"I'm not patient by nature," he said. "Getting all the ducks lined up so that we can be making a lot more than one box a day, that's what I worry about."

Bloom's boxes cost $700,000 to $800,000, and each provides 100 kilowatts of electricity--enough to power 100 average U.S. homes--with roughly the footprint of a parking space.

The devices, which launched in February, work by converting air and a fuel, natural gas initially, into electricity through an electrochemical process.

Early customers include Google, eBay, Coca Cola, FedEx, and Staples, and Sridhar said he was encouraged by the fact that Wal-Mart Stores was a repeat customer.

"When they power their stores with our boxes, that makes a statement," he said.

He said other would-be buyers range from celebrities such as the king of very rich country with a large home in Los Angeles to a Kansas man who wants to keep a house he is building for his dog warm in the winter.

Sridhar, a former NASA adviser who was director of the University of Arizona's Space Technologies Laboratory when it won several research and development contracts for Mars exploration, said his breakthrough came while doing work on technology to be deployed on the red planet.

Bloom's box was more than eight years in development, and the company has raised more than $400 million from investors including Silicon Valley powerhouse Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Morgan Stanley, NEA, and Northgate Capital.