Bloom Energy broke ground Monday on a new Bloom Energy Manufacturing Center in Newark.
There were no ceremonial shovels, since the concrete floor of the Chrysler plant remains at the site.
Instead, a who’s who of dignitaries, unveiled an architect’s rendering of the 200,000-square-foot plant that will occupy a small part of the 272-acre site that once housed the assembly plant that built 7 million cars and trucks in a 3 million-square-foot complex.
The site is now owned by the University of Delaware.
The Bloom Energy Manufacturing Center is expected to bring hundreds manufacturing jobs to the site, which will construct natural-gas powered fuel cells. Earlier estimates indicated the plant and suppliers could employ 1,500.
“Choosing a location for the facility that we are here to celebrate today was a very big decision for us,” said KR Sridhar, co-founder and CEO of Bloom Energy, a company based in northern California.
In remarks at the groundbreaking, Srindhar lavished praise on Delaware’s business climate, its congressional delegation and Gov. Jack Markell.
Sridhar said Delaware’s business-friendly climate and the overwhelming support of Governor Markell, adding that without the hardwork of the governor and his administration, the complex would not have been built at the UD site.
“Once the Bloom Energy Manufacturing Center is completed, we will double Bloom Energy’s production capacity,” he added. “Delaware complements our California roots and strategically positions us to better serve our expanding customer base.”
Sridhar took note of Bloom’s new customers, which include Owens Corning, Urban Outfitters, Washington Gas and AT&T, which already uses Bloom Energy Servers at its California facilities. Representatives of those firms discussed the advantages of the technology and frequently noted the reliability of the Bloom technology.
A number of Fortune 500 companies such as Google, eBay, Wal-Mart, Staples and Coca-Cola that have already installed Bloom Energy Servers– or “Bloom Boxes” to generate power. Bloom Boxes use solid oxide fuel cell technology that converts fuel to electricity using an electrochemical reaction, rather than combustion. As a result, customers can greatly reduce their carbon footprint while also cutting operating costs.
Bloom Energy will continue to produce the fuel cells in California, which is the home of the bulk of its fuel cell installations. Bloom employs 1,000 in manufacturing operations in California.
The company plans to partner with the University of Delaware to continue to develop 21st century manufacturing practices. Bloom has also hired a veteran of the Toyota “lean manufacturing” system to manage the plant.
That move drew praise from Delaware State Chamber of Commerce President James Wolfe, who formerly managed the Newark Assembly Plant. Wolfe said he adopted at least one of Toyota’s practices in his efforts to keep the plant open. He went on the praise the plant’s workforce.
“It wasn’t their fault,” he said in regard to the decision to close the plant in late 2008.
A key player in the Bloom decision to build fuel cells in Newark was Delmarva Power, which will have Bloom Boxes installed at a couple of northern New Castle County substations.
Delmarva customers will pay an additional charge for the electricity produced by the cells that could amount to about $15 a year.
That charge has drawn fire in some circles, with WDEL after radio talk show host Rick Jensen taking aim at the Bloom plant a few minutes after the groundbreaking ceremony ended. His stance is also reflected in the views of the conservative Caesar Rodney Institute. The institute says high electricity prices are holding down economic growth in Delaware.
Delmarva Region President Gary Stockbridge said the cells help the utility meet state mandates that call for a quarter of its energy to come from alternate sources. He also praised the reliability of the cells as a key reason in the utility’s alternative energy mix, since
Markell’s views different markedly from those of Jensen.
“This factory should give hundreds of new employees a chance to put their energy into manufacturing products that will power homes and businesses across the east coast. It will combine the legacy of quality construction that marked the site for decades under Chrysler with a new legacy of research and innovation that will emerge from the University’s new Science, Technology and Advanced Research Campus. Some of the nation’s largest companies have turned to Bloom to serve their energy needs. We’re excited to see Bloom turning to Delaware to build those servers,” Markell said. “From our federal delegation, to the leadership of the Delaware General Assembly, to our institutions of higher education, and Delaware’s talented and creative workforce, we came together to make the case to Bloom that Delaware is one of the best places in the country to build a business and raise a family. ”
“We’re thrilled to welcome Bloom Energy to UD’s Science, Technology and Advanced Research Campus,” said University of Delaware President Patrick Harker. “From the beginning, we’ve envisioned this campus as a place where the most creative minds in academia and industry come together to solve the world’s most urgent problems. This vision is being actualized today. We look forward to engaging with Bloom in innovative research, academic and community partnerships — partnerships that benefit the state and its people and revolutionize America’s clean energy future.”
The Bloom Energy Manufacturing Center will become the anchor tenant of the new University of Delaware Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus. Construction is expected to be completed in mid-2013, with manufacturing set to begin shortly afterwards.