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Author Topic: Bloom Box - Fuel Cell Breakthrough or BS?  (Read 5545 times)

Offline kilgorethecat

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Bloom Box - Fuel Cell Breakthrough or BS?
« on: 25/02/2010 12:23:59 »
Hi all.  This is my first post on Naked Scientists.  I just finished reading a thread from 2008 about using water as "fuel" and BOY was that fun.  Many of you had some very interesting things to say, so here I am, curious and ready for a discussion!

Alright - I searched the forum to make sure someone else had not already posted about Bloom Energy's new fuel cell, the Bloom Box.  I didn't find anything, but feel free to redirect my post if necessary.

For decades, researchers have been trying to find a way to make fuel cells more efficient, cheaper, fuel flexible, and therefore readily available to the consumer via mass production.  Many obstacles have stood in the way, though - some fuel cells require pure hydrogen fuel and precious earth metals like platinum, or lacked in corrosion resistance and durability when cheaper materials were used.  UNTIL NOW!

Bloom Energy, a company based out of California, has quietly been engineering a solid oxide fuel cell that trumps all others - The Bloom Box.  It can use a wide variety of fuels including hydrogen, natural gas, biogases, and almost any other hydrocarbon.  It can also be used in conjunction with renewables like solar in order to provide power to a hydrogen generator or simply as a backup.

Two stacks, about the size of two bricks, can power an average American home for almost a decade.  If pipeline natural gas is used for fuel, it uses half of what a traditional gas generator would use.  The downside is that if hydrocarbon fuel is used, CO2 is a byproduct (still only half compared to combustion), but because the units do not combust the fuel, there is no risk of CO emission.

Please read more about it on their website, which was finally "revealed" yesterday.
newbielink:http://www.bloomenergy.com/products/solid-oxide-fuel-cell/ [nonactive]

If you have any more questions, do a quick Google search - it's all over the Internet.  And please comment back, I want to know what others think about this.  I've been waiting for this day to come, when someone would figure out how to make the fuel cell of the century.  And the technology can only improve from here.



 

Offline LeeE

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Bloom Box - Fuel Cell Breakthrough or BS?
« Reply #1 on: 25/02/2010 12:34:25 »
Funnily enough, I just read about the Bloom Box earlier this morning.

This article about it seems pretty reasonable and makes some valid points about how useful it might be (one of the important factors is that most of Europe already has an extensive natural gas distribution network, whereas the U.S. does not and this will likely be a factor in its take-up).

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/02/24/bloom_box/
 

Offline kilgorethecat

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Bloom Box - Fuel Cell Breakthrough or BS?
« Reply #2 on: 25/02/2010 13:58:12 »
Even funnier... a friend of mine send me a link to that last night.

And I found just a couple things to criticize, hehe.

1) "nothing more than a hydrocarbon fuel cell" - Wrong. It runs on pure hydrogen, too. Also, by saying "nothing more," they are implying that this is just like all other hydrocarbon fuel powered cells.  It also utilizes reversible technology, which means you can also create fuel. 

For example, the cell works to reform methane with ~800°C steam, then to oxidize carbon monoxide and hydrogen:

CH4 + H2O + heat --> CO + 3H2
O2 + CO + H2 --> heat + CO2 + H2O

Something similar to this can be reversed later if you store the CO2 and water separately and supply heat again.  The beauty of this reaction is that one method is endothermic and the other is exothermic, so once you supply it with that initial heat source, the continuous reaction supplies itself with heat until you cut off fuel.

2) "Properly carbon-busting fuels like garbage gas" - Wrong. Carbon-offsetting, maybe. While it may be better than tapping nonrenewable natural gas reserves in Russia, landfill gas is mostly methane (CH4), some CO2, and a handful of other chemicals. So naturally, the byproducts will still be CO2 and H2O. Harmful halogen compounds must be filtered out beforehand (sulfur, nitrogen, and a few others can stay because these fuel cells are not easily poisoned by them, and somehow any SOx and NOx compounds are formed into less threatening gases) and the fuel must be transported between the landfill, treatment facility, and consumer frequently. Almost every single landfill in America must dispose of this gas by law, mostly because it presents an explosive hazard. They typically "flare" the gas by burning it straight into the atmosphere and fail to utilize the energy. Some places do use this energy via boilers, internal combustion engines, gas turbines, etc., but using it in this type of fuel cell is one of the most efficient ways. CH4 is ~23x more powerful at trapping heat than CO2, but you really aren't saving the world from CH4 exposure in this case, because it's already being burned off. By using these fuel cells you would be saving the world from the many other evils of combustion, forget CO2! This means carbon monoxide (CO), nitrous oxide (N2O), multiple dioxins/furans, and more. N2O is 296x more powerful at trapping heat than CO2 and remains in the atmosphere for 100+ years, and CO is poison. Dioxins and furans, though, laugh in the face of CO. Agent Orange was made primarily from dioxin. So, I wouldn't necessarily say using landfill gas in a Bloom Box is "properly carbon-busting."  I would probably say it is "somewhat carbon-offsetting but more efficient at preventing environmental contamination from really effed up toxins."

3) "national addiction to gas and reduce the scope for technologies which are actually low- to zero- carbon like wind or nuclear." - Yes, natural gas is to oil & coal like methadone is to heroin, but concentrating solely on carbon output compared to nuclear is unnerving. To say that this fuel cell technology actually reduces the scope for zero carbon is complete BS, not to mention the fact that nuclear is far from perfect itself.  Sure, less carbon emission, but more radioactive material that we have to figure out what to do with.  The innovation of fuel cells is a huge step in making energy cleaner, more efficient, cheaper, and readily available, and same with nuclear.  It's not fair to single one out, unless all you care about is CARBON CARBON CARBON.  They can even be used in conjunction with solar, wind, and hydrogen generators in order to supplement the need for hydrocarbons and fossil fuels. I'm pretty sure that actually broadens the scope for future developments of truly clean energy.

4) "those with the best interests of Western democracy and/or the environment at heart might actually hope that the Bloom Box isn't as efficient and cheap as its makers suggest." - Yeeeeaaaahh!!!! Screw cost-effective, highly efficient energy technology! Let's keep using dirty coal and other ancient ways of making electricity that don't actually supply the maximum amount of power produced via transmission and distribution!!!  We can always just keep on using worse things until the reincarnation of Albert Einstein figures out something I'm personally satisfied with in 50 more years!!!  *Chugs beer

5) "it will naturally take the world by storm without any hefty California-style subsidies" - Well, no. Not everyone in the world lives in California. But everyone in the United States could get a big tax break, businesses/nonprofits could receive recovery and reinvestment act grants, utility companies would give incentive, and who knows what else Obama has in mind.

Besides that whole rant, the article makes a damn good point about natural gas dependency, though. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind humanity will suck it all dry just because it's cheap at the moment. The only incentive for most people is money until something actually goes wrong. That is why governments must subsidize and give incentive, but in my humble opinion, they should be regulating the living hell out of the energy industry.

AND DON'T WORRY, I'VE GOT PLENTY MORE WHERE THAT CAME FROM.
 
 

Offline graham.d

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Bloom Box - Fuel Cell Breakthrough or BS?
« Reply #3 on: 25/02/2010 15:53:52 »
This outfit is a typical west coast start-up. All mouth with some heavy backing from big names. I can't judge whether it will be successful but I doubt it will have much to do with its technical capability. It happens all the time nowadays and it p*sses me off. They are talking $100k (I don't remember the exact figure they said) for a 100kW unit which is $1,000 per kW and claim to have sold these to Google, eBay and other big names. I would love to see the "details" of their contracts. And the units were the size of a small car. Automotive companies are the leaders in this field and can already produce units of similar power that fit in cars! Their aim (they believe, to be economic) is about $40 per kW. The noise this company are making, and the backers they have, won't let a few facts get in the way of them making money though.

The advantage of fuel cells is that they efficiently cut out the mecahnical generation of electricity by doing it directly - efficiently being the key word. They can use a whole variety of fuels, including hydrogen (as did the few buses that Ken Livingstone bought for London from Mercedes at about £1M each). Fuel cells have been used for some time (most spacecraft for example) but making them cheaply (as the Bloom bloke said) is key.
 

Offline kilgorethecat

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Bloom Box - Fuel Cell Breakthrough or BS?
« Reply #4 on: 25/02/2010 19:06:03 »
They are talking $100k (I don't remember the exact figure they said) for a 100kW unit which is $1,000 per kW and claim to have sold these to Google, eBay and other big names. I would love to see the "details" of their contracts. And the units were the size of a small car.

Fuel cells have been used for some time (most spacecraft for example) but making them cheaply (as the Bloom bloke said) is key.

Actually, the brand new 100kW ones that were sold to Google and eBay cost $700k-$800k (before the 50% subsidies combined for California). Yeah! I know. BUT these were sold as the pilots, before Bloom Energy had even released a press statement. The CEO wanted to keep the company behind a curtain, which he did very well until investors and corporate customers convinced him otherwise. I could see why Bloom Energy would want to keep quiet about this sort of thing to wait for better timing - now anyone who has heard anything about it has something to say and a lot of it is negative....because it isn't ready for everyone to use. They haven't completed the efficiency and cost upgrades just yet. Google has had theirs for about a year and a half with minor problems like the air filter being clogged because it was near a major highway (which was fixed by changing the filter and turning the box around to face the opposite direction).  They are using half the natural gas than they would be with a traditional source.  eBay purchased theirs seven months ago and paid the same per unit, but was more detailed when asked about their savings.  They covered the roofs of buildings with 3,000+ solar panels years ago, which saved them a good bit of money, but eBay says the Bloom Box produces five times the usable power and will save them about $100k/year, which is only 15% of their total usage. Even though they weigh 10 tons and are the size of a car, they are ~750x more space efficient than solar panels. They also come with a 10 year full service warranty.

The company is aiming to be able to produce residential units for $3,000 in the next 5-10 years, because they figured out how to utilize cheap, durable materials efficiently.  They are not at max efficiency, though. Thermal recovery, peak fuel reaction, and cell reversal are a few things Bloom Boxes will have in the future, making them truly and considerably the best fuel cells the market has ever seen.
 

Offline Geezer

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Bloom Box - Fuel Cell Breakthrough or BS?
« Reply #5 on: 25/02/2010 23:42:33 »
I'm skeptical (or cynical). Probably both.

We've been hearing that viable fuel cells were "just around the corner" for more than fifty years.

Wake me up when they can compete with a combined cycle gas turbine.

BTW, I have to admit I'm a bit disappointed in Graham. He should know that the average IQ of the employees in any corporation is an inverse function of the distance between the corporation's HQ and San Jose airport.
 

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Bloom Box - Fuel Cell Breakthrough or BS?
« Reply #5 on: 25/02/2010 23:42:33 »

 

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