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Bloom Energy’s Fuel Cells Serving Commercial and Industrial Enterprises

(Credit: Bloom Energy and Heliogen)

Bloom Energy will provide 9.75 megawatts of power at five commercial, industrial, and data centers in Belgium — the first deal the company signed in northern Europe. Bloom Energy, which has built a solid-oxide platform for distributed generation assets, is working with the Latvia-based Elugie. 

Bloom will deliver its solid-oxide fuel cell platform in early 2024 — which includes the ability to use combined heat and power. It will be the largest deployment of Bloom’s new combined heat and power feature, a vital energy efficiency and climate-friendly technology for industrial and commercial electricity users in Europe.

“This is a big win in support of our focus to build international business sales,” said Tim Schweikert, Senior Managing Director of International Business Development, Bloom Energy. “We look forward to Elugie’s work in Belgium and the many markets that it serves. This builds on our activities to grow sales across Europe and also in target markets in Asia.”

Elugie and Bloom are discussing deals in the Netherlands and the Baltic nations, comprised of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. “Elugie is proud of developing opportunities with Bloom for a total capacity of 9.75 megawatts in Belgium,” said Bjorn Van Haver, founder, Elugie. “This partnership will bring utility-scale clean solutions to critical customers in the country. Elugie is an experienced EPC (engineering, procurement, and construction company) in delivering energy-as-a-service.”

Fuel cells have been around for 100 years and have been used on nearly every NASA mission since the 1960s. They can power cars and provide electricity to the masses. More practical, though, is using fuel cell technology to supply onsite power generation to specific businesses that cannot afford even a momentary outage. That prevents wear and tear on the electric grid and improves reliability. Cost is still a hurdle.

Fuel cells work by separating hydrogen from oxygen. That process requires other fuel sources to break apart the elements. Right now, hydrogen is produced mainly from natural gas using steam reformation, which does nothing to limit the reliance on fossil fuels or the infrastructure that must carry them. The end product, however, is emissions-free. The hydrogen is stored in pipelines or tanks. 

Saving Electricity and Costs

The Bloom Energy servers today run primarily on natural gas or biogas as a fuel. But they can also run on renewable hydrogen, meaning wind and solar power could split the hydrogen and oxygen. There would then be no fossil fuel impact.

As for fuel cells, they have an electrical efficiency rate of 60%, says the U.S. Department of Energy. If used for cars, they will consume 50% less energy. In combined heat and power applications, where the heat is captured and used, the result is an overall energy efficiency of up to 85%.

Fuel cells that run on hydrogen have the potential to capture market share from stationary power generation over time. At present, though, those technologies have a limited place — but growing influence — in the electric power sector and are primarily used by businesses such as medical complexes, grocery stores, and telecommunications firms that need a continuous power flow.

Bloom Energy has made a big splash with its solid oxide fuel cells that generate around 100 kilowatts, and it says that it can convert any fuel source into electricity. Its fossil-fired systems are approximately 67% cleaner than a typical coal-fired plant. Meanwhile, those powered by green energy are more expensive but can be 100% cleaner.

Ebay installed Bloom Boxes on its main campus, enabling it to cut its electricity consumption by double digits and saving it thousands of dollars. Staples and WalMart are doing something similar with the fuel cell maker.

Ditto for II-VI Incorporated, which makes 3D sensing technologies. It is reducing its footprint using a microgrid at its New Jersey manufacturing facility. It chose to use a localized grid because the electric utility cannot supply the amount of power it needs to keep up with its growth.

Bloom Energy built a 2.5-MW power system for that company in nine months. Its solid-oxide fuel cell technology converts natural gas or biogas into electricity. Bloom says that its capacity factor — actual output compared to its nameplate capacity — is 90% compared to about 25% for solar energy and 40% for wind power. “We emit a lot less CO2 and compared to the U.S. grid mix of energy resources, we reduce emissions by 50%,” said a former marketing manager for Bloom in an earlier interview.

“We are producing electricity far more efficiently than combustion-based plants,” the former marketing manager added. “We are not back up only. We are always on. And we are using it on-site, meaning we do not lose it to transmission. This allows us to reduce greenhouse gas levels.”

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