Bloom Energy installs its first fuel cells outside of the U.S., in Japan

Bloom EnergySilicon Valley fuel cell startup Bloom Energy has installed its first fuel cells internationally, at a building in Fukuoka, owned by Japanese telecom giant Softbank. It’s just a small installation, but it’s the first results from the joint venture that Bloom Energy and Softbank created earlier this year to focus on getting more Bloom Energy fuel cells deployed in Japan.

Bloom Energy says it now has built out 100 MW worth of fuel cells across the U.S. — 100 MW is about enough to power 36,000 average American homes. While the company is over a decade old, it’s still a major milestone for a venture-backed startup working with a notoriously tricky technology like fuel cells. Bloom Energy is backed by over a billion dollars from investors like Kleiner Perkins and NEA.

Fuel cells are large devices that combine a fuel (usually natural gas or biogas) with oxygen and through a chemical reaction create electricity. They’re kindof like electricity-generating batteries.

Data center operators like Apple, Google, eBay and Microsoft, have started to experiment with Bloom Energy’s fuel cells to help add more clean and distributed power to their Internet operations. I took these pictures (also below) of Bloom Energy’s fuel cells installed outside of Apple’s data center in Maiden, North Carolina earlier this month.

Apple's fuel cell farm next to its data center in Maiden, North Carolina

Apple’s fuel cell farm next to its data center in Maiden, North Carolina

Japan is particularly interested in clean power options these days. After widely rejecting nuclear power following the Fukushima accident, the country is now looking aggressively at solar, energy efficiency, smart grid, and other next-gen energy options. However, because of Japan’s move away from nuclear it’s had to dial back on its carbon emissions reductions goals.