Skip to comments.Who Needs the Grid? A new fuel-cell technology promises to revolutionize access to...
Posted on 12/09/2009 7:39:05 PM PST by neverdem
In the boardroom at Bloom Energy, a single picture hangs on the wall: a satellite image of the world at night. Clusters of bright lights mark the industrial centers, and thin white lines trace connecting passageways such as the U.S. Interstate System and the Trans-Siberian Railroad. In between, huge swaths lie in shadow.
Standing almost reverently before the image, K. R. Sridhar, the CEO of Bloom, points to the dark areas—places where electricity isn’t accessible or reliable. “This is my motivation for everything,” he says. To improve the lot of the more than 2 billion people living in those dark areas, he says, you have to get them reliable, affordable energy. And if you don’t want to doom the environment in the process, you have to make that energy very clean.
Impossible? No more so than creating enough water and oxygen to keep astronauts alive on Mars. And Sridhar’s already figured out how to do that. In fact, his research on oxygen generators for NASA laid the technical groundwork for his current venture: highly efficient solid-oxide fuel cells that run on everything from plant waste to natural gas and provide electricity while emitting relatively little carbon dioxide.
Such technology might sound far-fetched, but the basic patent behind Sridhar’s cells, which he calls “Bloom boxes,” dates to 1899. Fuel cells—which facilitate a chemical reaction between oxygen and hydrogen or hydrocarbon fuel without burning anything—have been used aboard NASA vehicles and Navy submarines for years. The biggest challenge in adapting them for commercial use was making the technology reliable and affordable. That’s where Sridhar’s NASA background gave him a breakthrough advantage.
“To send anything to Mars is so expensive, you have to extract the most use possible out...”
(Excerpt) Read more at theatlantic.com ...
“Promises, promises / that’s all I get...”
Edison’s vision for electricity was similar. In his conception every block would have it’s own private electric generator providing power for a dozen or so homes. Economies of scale dictate, nevertheless, that you save a lot of money by building one gigantic power plant rather than by building a thousand small ones.
That's true as long as the efficiency at the one gigantic power plant is higher than thousands of smaller generators.
But, transmission line losses reduce that efficiency. If you can achieve better efficiencies locally and can use the excess heat for something else (like hot water or heating), it starts to become viable.
There's also the maintenance issue: a mechanically driven generator is beyond the ability of many people to keep running properly, not to mention the noise. A silent, low-maintenance fuel-cell generator would be more practical.
In the end, it will depend on how much it cost to "feed" the generator, and whether the effective cost per kilowatt hour is less than getting your electricity from the grid. The difference (and your usage) will determine how long it takes to recoup the cost of the generator.
Ironically, the best friend in the world of the greenies is Uncle Sam —by a mile.
The most recent UAV can go for 26 hours or more —silently— because of this technology.
Who can afford the first units? Uncle Sam.
Without the military, there is NO FREAKING WAY this green stuff would move forward, perhaps AT ALL —just too expensive for “real people” to buy the early units.
The hippies should all fellate the entire 82 Airborne, I swear.
There is NO WAY that a 5 kilowatt generator will power a 5000 square foot house. You would need 15kw minimum.
5KW M-I-G-H-T run the air conditioner on my house, which is less that 2000 sq. ft. You’re absolutely right about the requirements for a 5,000 sq. ft. house.
If government will just get out of the way, eventually the market will crack this nut.
You are absolutely right. How to contain the hydrogen and oxygen safely in a home? How to supply the expensive and rare platinum catalyst for the hydrogen anodes in thousands of homes? Not to mention the fancy electronics required. Way too expensive. There are other factors - clean-up after homes explode from faulty units, EPA approvals, etc.
Who needs a 5,000 sq-ft house?
Answer: People who want one and can afford it.
A buddy is building a 14,000 square foot house. Moving in this coming spring. Pretty big for just him and the wife, but they will be entertaining grandkids there in a few years.
If that sounds big, the largest home in his neighborhood is over 50,000 square feet, but then again, that guy has 50+ grandkids over for Christmas every year. I guess it's all relative.
However it seems the Japanese how made some progress.
Anyone that opens their sales pitch with that canard loses my business right at the start.
Thanks for the link.
Don't underestimate advances in catalyst chemistry.
highly efficient solid-oxide fuel cells that run on everything from plant waste to natural gas and provide electricity while emitting relatively little carbon dioxideThanks neverdem.