Softbank, Bloom Energy Team Up in Japanese Fuel Cell Venture

Softbank Corp. (9984), the Japanese majority owner of Sprint Corp. (S), formed a joint venture with Bloom Energy Corp. to market and distribute the California startup’s fuel cell technology in Japan.

Softbank, Japan’s third-biggest mobile phone company, and Sunnyvale-based Bloom will each contribute $10 million to the Bloom Energy Japan Ltd. venture, in which they will share equal ownership, according to a statement from the companies today on Softbank’s website.

Bloom’s units generate electricity from gas without burning the fuel, a more efficient process that produces fewer carbon emissions, according to its website. Using fuel cell units also reduces the risk of blackouts, such as those that occurred in Japan after the March 2011 Fukushima accident, since they’re not dependent on centralized power plants.

“By providing Bloom Energy’s breakthrough technology through this new joint venture, Softbank will further empower the adoption of innovative, clean energy,” Softbank Chief Executive Officer Masayoshi Son said in the statement.

The venture plans to sell energy under contracts lasting at least 20 years, during which rates paid by customers will not change, Mariko Osada, a spokeswoman for Tokyo-based Softbank, said by phone. Under the agreements, Bloom will set up units at customers’ locations and keep them fueled.

Market Opportunity

Softbank plans to install a 200-kilowatt fuel cell unit at one of its buildings in Fukuoka on the southwestern island of Kyushu, Osada said. The unit may start generating power this year.

Bloom Chief Financial Officer Bill Kurtz declined in an e-mail to provide information about the number of units that would be sold in Japan or their total generating capacity. Both companies see Japan as a “large market opportunity,” he said.

Bloom’s customers in the U.S. include Wal-Mart Stores Inc., AT&T Inc., Google Inc. and Coca-Cola Co., according to the joint statement.

Softbank’s renewable energy projects include stakes in a proposed 48-megawatt wind farm and a planned 39.5-megawatt solar plant at sites in western Japan. The company completed its takeover of Sprint this month.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jacob Adelman in Tokyo at jadelman1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jason Rogers at jrogers73@bloomberg.net

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