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Bloom Energy fuel cells to use "certified" natural gas

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Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photo: Ashley Cooper/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images

Bloom Energy is doubling down on natural gas. The long-troubled clean fuel-cell maker announced an agreement to buy so-called certified natural gas from the country's largest gas producer, EQT.

Why it matters: The company's embrace of fossil fuel generation — whether from natural gas, certified natural gas, or biogas — isn't out of step with a renewed focus on ensuring energy security and reliability, even from climate hawks.

  • U.S. climate envoy John Kerry, at the CERAweek energy conference in Houston this year, said "gas is going to be a key component" of the energy transition.

Details: Bloom says it will supply its fuel cells with the certified gas, which it says is associated with fewer greenhouse gas emissions than traditional natural gas.

  • While the company has said that its fuel cells may eventually run on zero-emissions hydrogen, the agreement with EQT signals that that day remains years away.
  • Bloom will buy certificates from EQT for gas certified by nonprofits MiQ and Equitable Origin.

Driving the news: Bloom Energy says that its fuel cells offer a cleaner, more resilient source of on-site electricity that produces fewer emissions than traditional natural gas plants, coal plants or on-site diesel generators.

Yes, but: Environmental advocates aren't convinced. "Gas is a fossil fuel just like coal or oil, and there's simply no such thing as responsibly sourced gas," Patrick Grenter, associate director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign, tells Axios.

Catch up fast: Bloom Energy has repeatedly sparked scandal.

  • An Axios investigation by Dan Primack in 2019 found that Bloom misstated costs and other key figures to investors.
  • A Forbes investigation in 2020 found that the company's technology does not work as the company and its leadership has claimed. In particular, as the fuel cell degrades, it ends up producing even more emissions than other sources of power.
  • Bloom Energy subsequently restated four prior years of financial statements, which included lowering its revenue by as much as $180 million, and adding $75 million to its losses.

Yes, but: Bloom maintains that it's put those days behind it.

  • Bloom has continued to win corporate buy-in: It says it's installed its fuel-cell boxes at about 700 sites and counts T-Mobile as a customer.
  • Bloom's stock price has recovered from its nadir three years ago: It was hovering at about $19.80 on Friday morning, up from a low of just $2.72 in October 2019.
  • In 2020, the company appointed Gregory Cameron, a longtime GE executive, as CFO.

What they're saying: "While we are working actively to bring the renewable fuels ecosystem forward, we are going to continue to run on natural gas in the near-term," Stephen Lamm, Bloom Energy's senior director of sustainability, tells Alan.

What we're watching: Bloom, with its history, is still working to close its credibility gap.

  • Keep an eye out for the company's next earnings call.
  • Just like the term "renewable" natural gas, expect to start hearing more about "certified" natural gas as an alleged clean fuel, too.
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