GAIL, Bloom Energy tie up to offer green power bank for industry

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NEW DELHI: US-based energy innovation company Bloom Energy and state-run gas utility GAIL have teamed up to offer industrial and large urban consumers in India a novel technology for generating electricity, providing a green and reliable alternative to flickering supply from the grid or diesel generators used for back-up.

Bloom Energy counts eBay, Walmart, Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson and Fedex among clients globally and Intel in India who are using its state-of-the-art solid oxide fuel cells – called ‘energy servers’ – to power their operations. A modular design makes the company’s cells easy to install onsite and expand.

A gas-based fuel cell produces electricity by setting off a chemical reaction between positively-charged hydrogen ions from the fuel and oxygen drawn from the air or other oxydising agents. This is why, unlike batteries, fuel cells require continuous supply of fuel and oxygen or air to sustain the chemical reaction. A modular design makes Bloom Energy’s cells are modular in design, making them easy to deploy at consumption sites and expand.

The new technology would widen the use of natural gas, bolstering the Modi government’s aim of developing a gas-based economy as part of its strategy to reduce the country’s carbon footprint. A tie-up with Bloom Energy would help GAIL to expand consumer base for its expanding pipeline network. Industries sensitive to the quality of power and housing societies would be the target consumers initially.

Oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan described the fuel servers as representing the “revolutionary technology that the PM dreams for India. “Only challenge is cost and scale of the technology,” he said, adding he would propose to Speaker Sumitra Mahajan a pilot project in Parliament complex. “Human and other biowaste from the complex can be used for producing gas for feeding the fuel cells.”

GAIL chairman B C Tripathi said the technology would be “competitive” against the high tariff and fixed charges paid by industrial consumers who also have to frequently fall back on costlier power from generators and suffer the hassle of maintaining them.

Bloom Energy founder and CEO K R Sridhar said cost of gas accounts for a third of the tariff of power from fuel servers, which are not competing against solar or diesel gensets. “Solar is inconsistent. We are talking of reliable, steady and quality power. Costs would further come down as we scale up,” he said.