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Surprise in Delaware: Bloom Energy’s ‘Green’ Fuel Cells Need Sulfur Filters

Surprise in Delaware: Bloom Energy’s ‘Green’ Fuel Cells Need Sulfur Filters

Bloom Energy, a celebrated Silicon Valley company that builds “green” fuel cell generators around the country, appears to be collecting–and removing–solid waste in the form of sulfur compounds that are collected on filters. The company admitted to Breitbart News that sulfur is present in its “Bloom boxes,” but allegedly did not initially disclose that fact when applying for a permit to operate in Delaware under the Coastal Zone Act.

The sulfur originates in the natural gas that the Bloom Energy generators use as a source for hydrogen. The company’s initial permit application, filed in November 2011 with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, mentioned that sulfur would be emitted in gaseous form, as sulfur oxides. However, it did not mention sulfur that would be filtered and then stored in the form of zinc sulfide.

In January 2012, the company submitted a revised permit application, in which it mentioned “desulfurization beds,” describing their operation in a paper attached to the permit application. The revised permit application argues that the filters will reduce the Bloom boxes’ sulfur oxide emissions. The permit was declared “complete” in February 2012 by “Syracuse whiz kid” Collin O’Mara, who served at the time as Delaware’s Secretary of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and now leads the National Wildlife Federation in Virginia.

O’Mara’s report does not include any solid wastes from desulfurization filters, and declares: “No hazardous wastes will be generated.” (O’Mara did not return a request for comment from Breitbart News.)

According to Bay Area scientist Lindsay Leveen, who first made the sulfur allegations against Bloom on his blog, Green Explored, thousands of pounds of sulfur oxides are “missing” between the first and second applications–a difference that can only be accounted for by the filters. Leveen obtained a document through a Freedom of Information Act request, which he provided to Breitbart News, showing the Bloom Energy site at the Red Lion site in New Castle, Delaware had an “outage” in March 2013 due to “sulfur content” in spent “desulfurization tanks” that had to be removed. State regulators are not, apparently, monitoring the removal of the tanks. 

Leveen contends that the tanks may contain hazardous waste, including spent catalysts and sulfur compounds. Regardless, he says, whether the state considers the spent filters to be hazardous waste or merely solid waste, it wrongly ignored them in the permitting process, since they were not mentioned at all in O’Mara’s report.

Another document obtained by Leveen shows a Bloom Energy proposal for a job training program in California in which participants would learn how to handle “hazardous materials,” including during the production of its fuel cells and “at customer sites when installing and servicing the units.” The hazardous material mentioned in particular is hydrogen sulfide gas, H2S, a poisonous gas that the desulfurization filters are meant to remove using a catalyst and a sorbent material that stores the sulfur as a compound such as zinc sulfide (ZnS).

Reached for comment, Bloom Energy spokesperson Alanna Gino told Breitbart News: “Bloom Energy systems do not produce sulfur. Sulfur is present in pipeline natural gas which is filtered and removed responsibly and in accordance with all requirements.” 

The company, which has also been accused of overstating the efficiency of its fuel cells, is the single largest recipient of grants under California’s Self Generation Incentive Program (SGIP).

Senior Editor-at-Large Joel B. Pollak edits Breitbart California and is the author of the new ebook, Wacko Birds: The Fall (and Rise) of the Tea Party, available for Amazon Kindle.

Follow Joel on Twitter: @joelpollak

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