[caption id="attachment_226512" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Bloom Energy has added more than 200 jobs at its Newark assembly plant in the last year, while eyeing more growth. | PHOTO COURTESY OF BLOOM ENERGY[/caption]
NEWARK – When the fuel cell company Bloom Energy first opened its assembly plant on the University of Delaware’s STAR Campus a decade ago, officials touted a potential employment of 900 people.In the end, the San Jose-based company missed its grant-backed deadline of 2017 to meet that lofty goal, but in the last year Bloom Energy has seen a 40% growth in jobs in Delaware. It has added 210 jobs in Newark, pushing its total Delaware headcount to 691 people and the company is targeting even more hires.“Our growth is due to our product being in high demand and we're finding that we're in need of hiring more talented individuals in Delaware,” Tyrone Jones, senior manager for policy and public affairs at Bloom and a University of Delaware graduate, told the Delaware Business Times.Bloom produces fuel cells that combine oxygen and a fuel source to create electricity without combustion. It most commonly runs on natural gas but is far more efficient than even traditional natural gas-powered electric plants, reducing the emissions of climate-harming carbon dioxide.In the decade since Bloom first began shipping its fuel cell stacks from California to Delaware to be collected and assembled into energy-producing “servers” though. It has improved its technology to produce greater levels of power, demonstrated its ability to maintain the units, booked thousands of sales with Fortune 500 companies and worked to make them more compatible with future alternative fuels like biogas and green hydrogen.“When Bloom first came to Delaware, I think there was this view of Bloom that was static and locked in time. But in reality, what the company was trying to do, and what our CEO K.R. Sridhar’s vision all along, was to create a company that was going to be a partner for commercial customers in the energy transition,” said Paul Wilkins, vice president of federal policy for Bloom.
[caption id="attachment_226513" align="alignleft" width="300"] Bloom Energy is offering a $19 an hour minimum wage for new assembly line technicians in Newark, with some earning as much as $23 depending on experience. | PHOTO COURTESY OF BLOOM ENERGY[/caption]
The company currently has a $8.5 billion backlog in orders and anticipates building 30,000 new servers in the next decade capable of producing 20 billion kilowatt hours of electricity. That means Bloom will increasingly look to Newark to fuel its growth, with an aggressive 30% to 35% compounded annual growth rate pegged by 2031.Jones said about 85% of Bloom’s current Newark workers are Delawareans despite sitting near two neighboring states, and they want to continue adding to that figure. They hired local recruiters and have made connections at local colleges and even organizations like REACH Riverside in Wilmington to find applicants.Entry-level assembly technicians only need to have a high school degree or GED, and can earn $19 to $23 an hour with benefits. Two shifts are running at the plant virtually 24/7, and Bloom just added another production line while eyeing additional growth.“We're looking for people who first and foremost want to learn and be a part of this clean energy future,” Jones said.The hiring potential in Delaware could also grow as end users begin to seek out technologies that can easily adapt to greener fuel sources, like hydrogen and biogas. Bloom has been actively working to incorporate both of those fuels into its fuel cells, launching its first commercial projects running on each in the last two years.“It's going to be a transition. It's not going to happen overnight. There's not going to be some sort of seismic shift, but in applications where there's availability of decarbonized hydrogen, we think you'll see more customers running off that,” Wilkins said.Bloom recently participated in a roundtable event on green hydrogen at Air Liquide’s Innovation Center with U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, where officials committed to being a part of Delaware’s growing hydrogen industry.Its fuel cells are already getting some early hydrogen usage in South Korea, where Bloom signed a major partnership deal with energy company SK ecoplant. It launched its first hydrogen-powered units there in 2021 and also started an electrolyzer there earlier this year.Bloom fuel cells have the unique ability to be easily engineered to work in reverse, with electricity and water combined to produce hydrogen. Such electrolyzers will help expand availability and production capacity of hydrogen even to remote areas, and Korea has been a leader in that research.“If you think about South Korea, they are space constrained. So, if they are going to transition their economy to net zero, there's only so much solar you can build there. There's only so much wind you can build there … They will probably be an energy importer and hydrogen is a clean, decarbonized molecule that can enable that,” Wilkins explained.With the technology well-positioned for the future and currently adopted by many, Bloom’s biggest challenges right now are hiring enough people, navigating the supply chain issues, especially concerning semiconductors like most manufacturers; and continuing to convince hard-to-abate industries to make the switch, Wilkins said.“Hydrogen is a really good solution for those industries longer term, but it takes them time to reinvest and retool their production facilities to be able to utilize hydrogen,” he said. “But we think we've got the right vision and the right product for the moment.”
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