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Meet the Bloom box (images)

Bloom Energy unveils its Bloom Energy server, or "Bloom box," Wednesday morning, which it says will deliver ample amounts of power in a small package.<br><br>

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Josh Lowensohn
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
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Michelle Meyers
Michelle Meyers wrote and edited CNET News stories from 2005 to 2020 and is now a contributor to CNET.
Josh Lowensohn
Michelle Meyers
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Installation

Silicon Valley-based Bloom Energy unveiled its Bloom Energy server, or "Bloom box," Wednesday morning, which it says will deliver ample amounts of power in a small package--and change people's dependency on traditional power grids.

Here, you can see one being installed.

While not available to consumers just yet, Bloom Energy held its press conference mostly to announce that its technology is indeed viable, and that it is currently beta testing it with a number of large companies including Google, Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, and Cox.

Going forward, Bloom plans to bring the technology into people's homes, and eventually mix it with other types of green power technology, such as solar, in order to create a new type of power grid.

Click on for more photos from the morning unveiling event. Also, click here for the related live blog or here for an FAQ on what the Bloom box does.

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Bloom Fuel Cell

At the heart of the box is the Bloom fuel cell, shown here. Bloom Energy says the solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) technology provides a cleaner, more reliable, and more affordable alternative to both today's electric grid as well as traditional renewable energy sources.

The box provides distributed power generation, allowing customers to efficiently create their own electricity on site, the company said.
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eBay

Among the first customers for the Bloom Energy Server, are Bank of America, The Coca-Cola Company, Cox Enterprises, eBay (shown here), FedEx, Google, Staples, and Wal-Mart.

The server, or "Bloom box," was unveiled at a Wednesday event hosted by eBay at its Sunnyvale, Calif.,  headquarters.

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4 of 14 Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Box under wraps

A mysterious covered box onstage before Wednesday's event. It was later unveiled to be filled with the same sand used in the production of the ceramic coating that goes into making the fuel cells.
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5 of 14 Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Sridhar and his magic sand

Underneath the black covering, Bloom Energy founder K.R Sridhar unveiled a box of sand.

Sridhar asks "Why is this so different?" Bloom Energy takes a certain type of sand, which Sridhar says is plentiful and available in several different parts of the world, and bakes into ceramic membranes that are a key part in making the fuel cells. Sridhar calls the process "powder to power."

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6 of 14 Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Schwarzenegger and Sridhar

Guests included California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, here posing for a photo opp with Sridhar.

Schwarzenegger says he loves hanging out with this Sridhar, because he's not the only one with an accent.

Schwarzenegger goes on to tout Bloom Energy's spirit, which he says is similar that held by people who flocked to California during the gold rush. In that same spirit, he's proposing a package to exempt the purchase of green equipment from California sales tax, a move he hopes will help speed up adoption in homes and businesses.

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How Bloom works

Courtesy of Bloom Energy's press kit, these images show how much power you can get from one Bloom box energy server. In this case, it's a box with more power cells than you'd find in a normal home install. But such a box could power an entire office building or 100 U.S. homes.

Sridhar forsees a model where each U.S. home has its own Bloom box, though the technology allows multiple dwellings to share the same server.

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8 of 14 Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Sridhar with fuel cell

What goes into the fuel cell? Sridhar asks. Traditional fuel, natural gas, renewable fuel. Biomass gas, landfill gas, ethanol. Whatever you have, he says.

Sridhar says that to change a fuel, people can just begin pumping it into the unit. It will then automatically figure out what's going into it and keep working.

Seen here, Sridhar holds one of the finished fuel cells that goes into the Bloom box stack.

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9 of 14 Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Box in hand

Sridhar says you take a stack of these and you can power anything. (The one in his hand, for example, can power a house, he says.)
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10 of 14 Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Google co-founder Larry Page

At the event was Google co-founder Larry Page. Google was the very first customer of Bloom Energy's servers. The company uses them to power part of one of its research and development buildings. Google still uses on-grid power though, alongside other clean energy sources including solar power, which its employees can use to charge their electric cars while parked.
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11 of 14 Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Bloom board member Colin Powell

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell is a board member for maker Bloom Energy. Powell joked that he does not yet have one in his own home, but that he plans to get one installed when the snow from the East Coast melts.

Powell foresees the Bloom energy generator having big uses for the military, since traditional generators can be heavier, less efficient, and a tactical disadvantage, since their heat signatures can be detected more easily by enemy reconnaissance. However, Powell said he is not pushing development contracts with the current U.S. defense administration.

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Production facility

These are fuel cell stacks at the Bloom Energy production facility. According to founder K.R. Sridhar, "most" of the labor involved has been kept inside the U.S. during this part of the process, although that might change if and when the company reaches mass production.

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What's inside

One of the selling points for the Bloom Energy server is that it scales in the same way networking servers do. Sridhar says that just like servers, a bad cell does not bring the entire machine down. Instead, repair technicians can just swap it out without interrupting the flow of power to whatever it's connected to.

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How the fuel cell works

Each cell is made up of three distinct parts. The middle is a ceramic membrane. It's then sandwiched between an anode and a cathode. As gas is pumped in, the combination forces oxygen ions through the membrane. It's the movement of oxygen through the cell that creates the electricity.

What makes the system particularly special is that Bloom Energy has found a way to do this without having to use more expensive metals, and without it suffering degradation down to corrosion. The real question is whether this technology will be able to hold up past the company's 10-year warranty.

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