The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough?

60 Minutes: First Customers Say Energy Machine Works And Saves Money

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Asked if Bloom box is intended to get rid of the grid, John Doerr told Stahl, "The Bloom box is intended to replace the grid…for its customers. It's cheaper than the grid, it's cleaner than the grid."

"Now, won't the utility companies see this as a threat and try to crush Bloom?" Stahl asked.

"No, I think the utility companies will see this as a solution," Doerr said. "All they need to do is buy Bloom boxes, put them in the substation for the neighborhood and sell that electricity and operate."

"They'll buy these boxes?" Stahl asked.

"They buy nuclear power plants. They buy gas turbines from General Electric," he pointed out.

To make power, you'd still need fuel. Many past fuel cells failed because they needed expensive pure hydrogen. Not this box.

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

"You know, it's very difficult for us to come in here and make an evaluation. How are we supposed to know whether what you're saying is true?" Stahl asked.

"Why don't we talk to our first customers?" he replied.

Yes, he already has customers. Twenty large, well-known companies have quietly bought and are testing Bloom boxes in California.

Like FedEx. We were at their hub in Oakland, the day Bloom installed their boxes, each one costing $700-800,000.

One reason the companies have signed up is that in California 20 percent of the cost is subsidized by the state, and there's a 30 percent federal tax break because it's a "green" technology. In other words: the price is cut in half.

"We have FedEx, we have Walmart," Sridhar explained.

He told Stahl the first customer was Google.

Four units have been powering a Google datacenter for 18 months. They use natural gas, but half as much as would be required for a traditional power plant.

Sridhar told Stahl that three weeks in at Google, suddenly one of the boxes just stopped.

Asked if he panicked, he told Stahl, "For a short while… yes."

He fixed that; then there was another incident. "The air filters clog up and air is not coming into the system because the highway is kicking dirt. You just flip the system around, and the problem is gone," he explained.

Another company that has bought and is testing the Bloom box so Sridhar can work out the kinks is eBay. Its boxes are on the lawn in the middle of its campus in San Jose.

John Donahoe, eBay's CEO, says its five boxes were installed nine months ago and have already saved the company more than $100,000 in electricity costs.

"It's been very successful thus far. They've done what they said they would do," he told Stahl.

eBay's boxes run on bio-gas made from landfill waste, so they're carbon neutral. Donahoe took us up to the roof to show off the company's more than 3,000 solar panels. But they generate a lot less electricity than the boxes on the lawn.

"So this, on five buildings, acres and acres and acres," Stahl remarked.

"Yes. The footprint for Bloom is much more efficient," Donahoe said. "When you average it over seven days a week, 24 hours a day, the Bloom box puts out five times as much power that we can actually use."