Bloom Box Energy
Did anyone watch 60 minutes last night? They did a segment on new energy plans for the future. ? is, will it happen?
In the world of energy, the Holy Grail is a power source that’s inexpensive and clean, with no emissions. Well over 100 start-ups in Silicon Valley are working on it, and one of them, Bloom Energy, is about to make public its invention: a little power plant-in-a-box they want to put literally in your backyard.
You’ll generate your own electricity with the box and it’ll be wireless. The idea is to one day replace the big power plants and transmission line grid, the way the laptop moved in on the desktop and cell phones supplanted landlines.
Two boxes can power the average high-consumption home and one box can power the average low-consumption home, at least that’s the claim being made by K.R. Sridhar, founder of Bloom Energy, on the 60 Minutes show on CBS. The original technology comes from an oxygen generator meant for a scrapped NASA Mars program that has been converted, with the help of an estimated $400 million in private funding, into a fuel cell.
Bloom’s design feeds oxygen into one side of a cell while fuel (natural gas, bio gas from landfill waste, solar, etc) is supplied to the other side to provide the chemical reaction required for power. The cells themselves are inexpensive ceramic disks painted with a secret green “ink” on one side and a black “ink” on the other. The disks are separated by a cheap metal alloy, instead of more precious metals like platinum, and stacked into a cube of varying capabilities – a stack of 64 can power a small business like Starbucks.
i just heard about this today from a friend in Silicon Valley. Apparently Google and Ebay are already using them. It is an energy saver not a producer. It uses natural gas, so basically it sounds like a fuel cell.
Sounds brilliant, and I’d love to have a unit in my backyard.
However we do not have piped natural gas in my neck of the woods and the trucked stuff is not cheap so I’d need to see what the per kilowatt hour costs of production would be. Further, there are no oxygen pipelines running anywhere so that all has to be trucked in and, of course, oxygen needs to be produced somewhere by someone at some sort of energy and dollar cost. and oxygen is somewhat explosive and dangerous so I imagine there will be insurance implications to have a unit operating in your backyard.
Next I’d want to know what the lifespan of these units would be to develop a view of of the lifetime kilowatt hour costs of the electricity produced. My suspicion is that the cost will be somewhat (and possibly a lot) higher than the cost of current electricity for people like myself without access to piped NatGas.
However, I think that for those concerned with reliable backup power, or for remote locations, this Bloom box could be a great thing.
Lastly, a friend of mine that is an actual investor in drilling and producing the shale gas plays is not nearly as bullish about the actual production from these wells noting that there’s enormous variation in results across the plays. The Barnett has not generally been successful, Louisiana wells almost never paid out 1:1 and that serious doubts are emerging about the PA and NE areas. However the Woodward (OK) play has been good. So here I would caution against believing the hype about the sale gas plays without further inquiry. As usual, there’s a story involved there.
In the end, I am not convinced that distributed electricity production based on oxygen and NatGas is going to be an acceptable mitigant for peak oil. Electricity and liquid fuels are not yet interchangeable fuels.
If this was used in a remote location and trucked liquid fuel could be vaporized on site and then fed into it, I think it has some potential. Perhaps for military type applications???
Other than that, I haven’t seen enough to convince me it’s going to revolutionize a thing. It might work without a pure oxygen source, but it certainly wouldn’t be nearly as efficient.
There is only 1 other advantage I can think of at the moment: We lose a great deal of energy in converting coal (or uranium) to electricity and then transporting the electricity over our grid system. By the time we use 1 kWh in our tv at home, as much as 7-10 kWh of fuel needed to be consumed in the power plant and that’s not to include the energy required to mine or transport the coal/uranium to the power plant in the first place. Point is, on site electric generation is often a large net efficiency gain. But this, of course would be dependent on the pre-existing presence of natural gas line infrastructure to the site. That said, fuel cells are far more efficient than the steam turbines used in large power plants.
Right now (and probably for the short term future at least) natural gas is far cheaper than liquid hydrocarbons. Natural gas is ~$5 / million BTU and liquid fuels are ~ $22 / million BTU.
We shall see what the future holds, but basically this is a big bet on abundant natural gas, and I’m personally not ready to make that wager just yet. I would tend to think it has more potential for transportation applications but that’s just me.
Appears to use atmospheric oxygen (directly from air, instead of compressed or liquid). I would assume propane would be an option. Since propane is derived form oil and natural gas processing, it would not be the perfect long term fuel, but is readily available now. Bio gas would be a possible future source. Don’t get the comment about using solar in the video.
I would love to have this capability. I have a big propane tank, but a typical propane fueled home generator is not very efficient and rather noisy. Durability would be my biggest initial concern.
Well it does claim to be able to use bio gas so all you really need to do is to potty train your chickens and then there is no need for the natural gas
I’d be interested to see the efficency of the system… I could see something like this eventually powering electric trains.
Looking at shale plays is a very important consideration for people concerned about the three e’s. One of those e’s happens to be the environment. Extracting gas from these shale plays does a tremendous amount of damage. It requires a huge amount of fresh water. It is not simply a matter of drilliNg a well and tapping the gas.
The low hanging fruit is gone
I’ve also heard that acid is frequently used for the hydrofracking process often employed with shale gas. I believe NY state was recently having lawsuits against oil companies over claims that the acids were poisoning local drinking waters…not good.
OK. I’ve watched and read everything I can find on this and I have to say I would love to have this as much as anyone. But there is one single voice in my head that says: “If it sounds too good to be true it is”
Their website has more information now: http://www.bloomenergy.com/