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Bloom Energy opens first electrolyzer production line

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U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, center, cuts the ribbon at Bloom Energy’s new electrolyzer production line in Newark on Tuesday along with company officials and workers. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

NEWARK – As evidence of Bloom Energy’s confidence in hydrogen as a renewable fuel source of the future, it opened its first dedicated production line for electrolyzers in its Newark assembly plant.

Best known for its fuel cell servers known as Bloom Boxes, the San Jose, Calif.-based company has been rapidly hiring at its STAR Campus plant over the past year, adding more than 200 jobs. With two production lines running practically 24/7 to build its fuel cell servers, the company sought to invest resources into a dedicated electrolyzer production, which U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) helped to inaugurated Tuesday afternoon.

While Bloom Energy’s fuel cells can take oxygen and a gas, like natural gas, hydrogen or biogas, to create electricity, an electrolyzer will use water and electricity to produce hydrogen, a clean gas that can be used as a fuel source in commercial and passenger vehicles but is also an integral part of hard-to-abate industries, like oil and steel production. With roughly 80% of the Bloom Box’s components interchangeable between fuel cells and electrolyzers, it makes the expansion opportunity even easier, officials said.

In testing of its solid-oxide electrolyzer this year at the Idaho National Laboratory, officials at that federal lab said the Bloom product was “without a doubt, the most efficient electrolyzer we have tested to-date.” It produces hydrogen at a rate of 37.7 kilowatt hours per kilogram of hydrogen.

The focus on electrolyzer production comes amid a U.S. federal investment in hydrogen, especially through the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act, which gives producers of “clean hydrogen” the choice of production tax credits of up to $3 a kilogram for 10 years on the hydrogen produced or an investment tax credit of up to 30% of the cost of the electrolyzer and other equipment. That incentive is expected to help drive adoption of hydrogen as a fuel source in America, where the cost of green hydrogen has been among its biggest challenges.

Carper, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and pushed for that incentive, said he was able to gather congressional support by appealing to the different types of renewable hydrogen, including those using natural gas, nuclear and biogas as a fuel source for the electricity.

He added that he was supportive of the work being done at Bloom to advance hydrogen production and fuel cells.

“A lot of people say it’s not possible to address climate change and create jobs … but this company is living proof that it’s possible to do both,” he said.

Glen Griffiths, executive vice president of operations, services and quality at Bloom Energy, talks with U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, at the inauguration of the company’s new electrolyzer production line in Newark on Tuesday. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

Glen Griffiths, executive vice president of operations, services and quality at Bloom Energy, said he couldn’t talk about any potential initial commercial electrolyzer clients before the company’s quarter earnings report is released Thursday, but said there has been “a lot of inquiries.” In investor presentations this past summer, Bloom said it was preparing for “large” commercial orders of electrolyzers starting in the second half of 2023.

“There’s a lot of interest out in the world on electrolyzers. You’re seeing a lot of leadership coming out of Europe as well,” he said.

With Europe and the United Kingdom in the midst of an energy crisis following sanctions on Russia for its war in Ukraine, there could be rising demand for hydrogen-producing electrolyzers on the continent to fill some of the operations dependent on natural gas.

“I think the European market is going through a big shock given what’s happening around the world right now and that’s causing a lot of countries to rethink their energy policy,” Griffiths told Delaware Business Times, noting his family in England was paying about 10 times their normal energy bill this year.

Some Asian countries, especially South Korea, are investing heavily in hydrogen as well, as their smaller landlocked status limits their ability to expand other renenwable energies. Bloom signed a signed a major partnership deal with Korean energy company SK ecoplant, where it launched its first hydrogen-powered fuel cell units there in 2021 and also started an electrolyzer pilot program there earlier this year.

Adding to the sale opportunity for Bloom Energy is that unlike its fuel cells, which can range in production capacity from 50 kilowatts to tens of megawatts, electrolyzers will sell in large batches, Griffiths said.

“Electrolyzers are not going to sell in ones and twos. They’re going to sell in industrial sizes and are going to go to major plants. So, we’re expecting the growth to be quite rapid,” he said. 

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1 Comment

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    Noah Fish November 2, 2022

    Seems that hydrogen is speedily becoming a reality in the US thanks to the IRA. It will be interesting to see if hydrogen can be implemented on a large scale over the coming years. Exciting times for clean energy either way. Thank you for the thorough article Jacob.

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