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Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of ten of America's presidencies and who has edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. We get over 5 million article visits a year. See for full contents of our site

February 26, 2010


UPI - A U.S. energy company has unveiled a fuel cell that it says can transform the nation's current system of grid-distributed power into localized energy sources.

The Bloom Energy Corp. of Sunnyvale, Calif., says its "Bloom Energy Server" -- or "Bloom Box" -- is a solid oxide fuel cell that can use a variety of fuel sources to provide "a cleaner, more reliable and more affordable alternative to both today's electric grid, as well as traditional renewable energy sources."

Bloom says its device generates enough power to meet the needs of approximately 100 average U.S. homes or a small office building in approximately the footprint of a parking space. For more power, multiple servers can be installed side by side.

"Customers who purchase Bloom's systems can expect a 3-5-year payback on their capital investment from the energy cost savings," the company said. "Depending on whether they are using a fossil or renewable fuel, they can also achieve a 40-100 percent reduction in their carbon footprint as compared with the U.S. grid."

Company co-founder and CEO K.R. Sridhar told a Wednesday news conference: "We believe that we can have the same kind of impact on energy that the mobile phone had on communications. Just as cell phones circumvented landlines to proliferate telephony, Bloom Energy will enable the adoption of distributed power as a smarter, localized energy source."

TREE HUGGER - Bloom Energy's 3 main selling points are: "lower energy costs, clean power, and reliable power."

The first will obviously depend on many things, especially how low they can get production costs for Bloom Box fuel cells. K.R. Sridhar, the founder of Bloom Energy, claims that costs could be brought down as low as $3,000 for a stack. . .

The second point depends on what you compare it to. If you take the current U.S. grid average, then a Bloom Box running on natural gas would indeed be clean and produce about half the CO2. But compared to cleaner sources like hydro, wind, solar, nuclear, biomass, etc, you'd probably still produce more CO2. But if these fuel cells are deployed first in states that are very dependent on coal and that have access to natural gas (or even better, biogas), they could make a pretty significant difference.

The most promising use of the Bloom Box. . . is as a backup for a wind or solar power system. The natural gas/biogas fuel cell would be your backup for when the sun or wind doesn't shine. If Bloom Energy really can bring the price down low enough, it could be more affordable than large battery packs.

The third point, reliability, will be entirely dependent on how good the technology is. Fuel cell membranes can be contaminated in various way, so the robustness of the design will be key.

Some of Bloom Energy's current customers (or beta-testers) are: FedEx, Google, eBay, Coca-Cola, Staples, and Wal-Mart. This will no doubt help legitimize the company in the eye of other big corps, so if the product is actually good and pays for itself in 5-7 years (as they claim, though that probably includes government incentives), I think we can expect a pretty fast adoption rate.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. from reading more knowledgeable readers on slashdot, i see that there are numerous problems with this that have been glossed over or ongoing...
2. the 'payback' (admittedly on a startup situation where costs can be expected to go down with time) at this point takes 30+ years...
(probably better/cheaper to insulate and weatherstrip)
3. it is unknown how the 'ink' in the units (which facilitates the process as a catylst (sp?)) is an unknown factor as to how long it will last, and how to replenish it
4. the high operating temps (approx 1000C) make for EXTREME wear and tear on the components that has NOT been proven over time...
5. as alluded to above, there are MANY cheap, known, 'easy' energy saving fixes which would do far more to help than these black boxes... weatherstripping, insulation, lights on sensors, etc, etc, etc, can save a HUGE percentage of our energy use...
(not very 'sexy', but effective)
6. given all that, OF COURSE it would be way cool to have one, IF it worked over the long haul...
art guerrilla
aka ann archy

February 26, 2010 8:14 AM  

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