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What is a Bloom Box?

Matt Brady
Matt Brady

The Bloom Box is an alternative energy source capable of generating electricity without plugging into the electric grid. The actual box is a something like a mini power plant and houses small fuel cells stacked on top of one another. These fuel cells act like batteries and produce clean energy from a combination of fuel and oxygen. This is an adaptation of Solid Oxide Fuel Cell technology, which creates electricity by oxidizing fuel.

The Bloom Box was invented by Dr. K.R. Sridhar, the co-founder and CEO of Bloom Energy. Before inventing the Bloom Box, Sridhar was an adviser to NASA; he also worked at the University of Arizona as the Director of the Space Technologies Laboratory (STL). The name for Sridhar's invention came from his nine-year-old son, who thought the name would fit an invention he imagined would help lives and jobs bloom.

Ordinary beach sand is used to make the disk of a Bloom Box.
Ordinary beach sand is used to make the disk of a Bloom Box.

The heart of the Bloom Box is a flat fuel cell disk, similar in size to an index card. The disk is made of ordinary beach sand, baked and segmented into squares. Using dyes that Sridhar created, the fuel cell is painted black on one side, and green on the other. Oxygen is pumped into one side of the disk, and fuel to the other side. The combination of oxygen and fuel creates a chemical reaction that generates electricity.

One of these fuel cells is said to power a light bulb. 64 of them, stacked together within a box small enough to hold in one hand, are said to power a small business or home. The cells are not picky about what fuel they consume. According to Dr. Sridhar, they're able to generate electricity using anything from fossil fuels to renewable energy, such as biofuels and solar power.

To see whether Sridhar's claims about his invention were true, multiple companies signed on to test the Bloom Box. Big-name businesses such as Google, FedEx, Wal-Mart and eBay were among those that installed Bloom Boxes at select locations. The results found that multiple boxes were capable of powering a significant percentage of large business campuses. John Donahoe, CEO of eBay, reported that the boxes generated 15 percent of the campus's power, and produced more electricity at a faster rate than the solar panels he had installed on the roof.

The Bloom Box was funded in large part by John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins, a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley, Calif., that also helped fund Google as a start-up company. Both Doerr and Dr. Sridhar have stated that the intent of the box is to replace the electric grid, providing a cheaper, cleaner and more accessible form of energy to the world.

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    • Ordinary beach sand is used to make the disk of a Bloom Box.
      By: MarcoBagnoli Elflaco
      Ordinary beach sand is used to make the disk of a Bloom Box.