Nick Rosen | |
Powell: Hypemaster-General

More details of the Bloom Box have been revealed at a carefully managed press conference in California.  The much-hyped off-grid source of cheap electricity  will not lead us all to disconnect from the grid tomorrow, but it is undoubtedly disruptive technology, and very exciting for the off-grid community.

The firm’s executives and backers do think that many people in future may choose to install the small box in their home and use it to generate electricity from such fuels as methane and ethanol or even solar, rather than buying it from expensive, wasteful centralised producers.  It is a game-changer.
The invention is simply an oxide fuel cell, which the industry has known for years to be one of the most promising forms of power supply device. The problem has been cost, and Bloom Energy have not solved that issue.
Fuel cells are devices that convert fuel into electricity through a clean electro-chemical process rather than dirty combustion. They are like batteries except that they always run.
The Bloom box naturally takes in oxygen from the air and emits CO2 just like an ordinary hydrocarbon-fuelled generator. But it is more efficient: and unlike most fuel cells, according to its makers, it is cheap to make.
That, in a nutshell, is it: a cheap fuel cell – made of  “sand and ink” according to interviews given by Bloom CEO KR Sridhar – and are undergoing trial deployments at various customer facilities in California. Wal-Mart, FedEx, eBay and Google have been named as customers.
E-Bay chief John Donahoe told today’spress conference that Bloom is “disruptive” just like eBay was. “We put solar in, 65,000 feet of it, which powers 18% of our campus on peak. But then we ran into Bloom. Put it in last july, and it’s powering 15% off just  5 boxes.”
Mostly the pilot Bloom plants – larger, fridge or car-sized units intended to power large buildings – run on ordinary fossil-fuel natural gas, but some users intend to use gas sourced from landfills or other more eco-feely sources.
The Bloom’s Energy Server, as the company is now calling it,  is “a new class of distributed power generator, producing clean, reliable, affordable electricity at the customer site.”
That is what makes interesting to people living off-grid, or wanting to.
Bloom’s fuel cell technology is different than legacy “hydrogen” fuel cells in four main ways:
1. Low cost materials – our cells use a common sand-like powder instead of precious
metals like platinum or corrosive materials like acids.
2. High electrical efficiency – we can convert fuel into electricity at nearly twice the
rate of some legacy technologies
3. Fuel flexibility – our systems are capable of using either renewable or fossil fuels
4. Reversible – our technology is capable of both energy generation and storage
Each Bloom Energy Server provides 100kW of power, enough to meet the baseload needs of 100 average homes or a small office building… day and night, in roughly the footprint of a standard parking space. For more power simply add more energy servers.

More details of the Bloom Box have been revealed at a carefully managed press conference in California.  The much-hyped off-grid electricity source will not lead us all to disconnect from the grid tomorrow, but it is undoubtedly disruptive technology, and very exciting for the off-grid community.the firm’s executives and backers do think that many people in future may choose to install a small Box in their home and use it to generate electricity from such fuels as methane and ethanol rather than buying it from expensive, wasteful centralised producers.The invention is simply an oxide fuel cell, which the industry has known for years to be one ft he most promising forms of power supply device. The problem has been cost, and Bloom Energy have not solved that issue.Fuel cells are devices that convert fuel into electricity through a clean electro-chemical process rather than dirty combustion. They are like batteries except that they always run. Our particular type ofThe Bloom box naturally takes in oxygen from the air and emits CO2 just like an ordinary hydrocarbon-fuelled generator. But it is more efficient: and unlike most fuel cells, according to its makers, it is cheap to make.That, in a nutshell, is it: a cheap fuel cell – made of  “sand and ink” according to interviews given by Bloom CEO KR Sridhar – and are undergoing trial deployments at various customer facilities in California. Wal-Mart, FedEx, eBay and Google have been named as customers.E-Bay chief John Donahoe told today’spress conference that Bloom is “disruptive” just like eBay was. “We put solar in, 65,000 feet of it, which powers 18% of our campus on peak. But then we ran into Bloom. Put it in last july, and it’s powering 15% off just  5 boxes.”Mostly the pilot Bloom plants – larger, fridge or car-sized units intended to power large buildings – run on ordinary fossil-fuel natural gas, but some users intend to use gas sourced from landfills or other more eco-feely sources.The Bloom’s Energy Server, as the company is now calling it,  is “a new class of distributed power generator, producing clean, reliable, affordable electricity at the customer site.”That is what makes interesting to people living off-grid, or wanting to.Bloom’s fuel cell technology is different than legacy “hydrogen” fuel cells in four main ways:1. Low cost materials – our cells use a common sand-like powder instead of precious metals like platinum or corrosive materials like acids.2. High electrical efficiency – we can convert fuel into electricity at nearly twice the rate of some legacy technologies3. Fuel flexibility – our systems are capable of using either renewable or fossil fuels4. Reversible – our technology is capable of both energy generation and storage
Each Bloom Energy Server provides 100kW of power, enough to meet the baseload needs of 100 average homes or a small office building… day and night, in roughly the footprint of a standard parking space. For more power simply add more energy servers.

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8 Responses to “Bloom energy box enables off-grid living”

  1. Joy

    I have a lot of respect for people like Vinod Khosla and really hope that he’s part of something good here.

    Reply
  2. dextrousahmer

    jparton you are absolutely rite…

    i m just thinking that why they are trying to make electricity with the help of oxygen … i have better idea to make electricity then the idea he told in this article…….

    where are all top engineer gone…..??? what are doing…??? is this necessary that me they make something which is harm for human life…

    Reply
  3. jparton

    Oh my God people, did you not read the article??!!

    If this guy creates and mass produces a device that extracts our (limited and precious supply of) oxygen and outputs CO2, and does so in a mass production environment for industry use as well as home use, then he’s effectively going to sell us a device that will suffocate us all!!!

    Please re-read this part of the above article carefully… “The Bloom box naturally takes in oxygen from the air and emits CO2 just like an ordinary hydrocarbon-fuelled generator. But it is more efficient: and unlike most fuel cells, according to its makers, it is cheap to make.”

    Forgive me, but if it takes in all of our oxygen and we suffocate to death, isn’t that a high price to pay for our energy needs???

    I’d rather get stuck living like our great great grandparents, with no utility services at all, than to pay for them with my life!!!

    Reply
  4. Karl in Maryland

    I think the concept is very sound and the most practical aspect of this technology is two fold in it’s application. First is the fact that the units provide power with less losses then what is coming across the grid. Second is reducing demand on the existing old, fix it later grid system. However the source of fuel for the units and how we obtain it is going to be the real question. I think this is why the Natural Gas industry has been pushing to get expanded distribution to our homes. Governments and industry need to make money and I doubt they care about green other then the dollars. Still I am hoping that this might be a demand side management tool in the interim until we start investing in our electrical infrastructure and really start maintaining our energy independence from foreign sources, but that requires American leaders and we seem to be lacking in that area. The unit also consumes water and that is another resource that we need to be concerned about. I think gray water should be the solution for this aspect, but we have been lacking in implementing this technology. I guess we need a water crisis also to get people motivated. In summary the Bloom system in mass production should become more economical and targeting resident and commercial will only reduce 20% of the demand sector. If we can fit this in a vehicle or build larger systems for industrial complexes, now your talking energy.

    Reply
  5. longchamp

    alyce,
    yours is of course the only approach
    if you look at things from the philosophical angle –
    no need to add anything there.

    However people brought up in throwaway luxury
    will never want to be the first to give an inch,
    as long as they dont feel the wall against their backs,
    and that wall doesnt give an inch –
    so this what is going to happen.

    unfortunately, it will of course be all our backs,
    or all our childrens backs,
    and there are “other” people
    who will feel it first or at least worst, in africa and oceania etc.

    human nature being as it is,
    with all our destructive efforts (war efforts),
    is of course part of nature too
    so basically one ould argue that destrying the environment
    is simply the part we have to play
    in evilution, err evolution :)

    Reply
  6. Kerry-Ann

    Whilst I agree that fuel cells are a disruptive technology (that was the central thesis in my PhD) there are a number of points in the report article I disagree with.

    What Bloom have done, and cannot be taken away from them, is a truely amazing PR job and when they go for IPR they will reap the rewards of this.

    But… .

    1. These units are pre commercial and by their own admission at present cost $700 – 800,000 each. For 100kWe. The aim to get the price down to under $3,000 has to, at the minute, be taken as an aim. That is one hell of a cost down and we don’t know the timescale for this.

    2. According to the report the systems is “capable of using either renewable or fossil fuels”. Yes and so are a number of the so called, by this article “legacy hydrogen fuel cells”. If you look at the Hydrogenics power-in-a-box model it produces fuel cell units hooked up to an electrolyser (a fuel cell in reverse) so any excess wind or solar can be stored in hydrogen to be used in the fuel cell. That’s the crunch. If you want to use wind or solar in your fuel cell when you cannot use the electricity direct then you will need to store it in hydrogen – independent on the fuel cell type. If you are using biomass, ADG or coal gas methane etc then you can just as easily use it in a UTC Phosphoric Acid unit (commercial now) or a FuelCell Energy Molten Carbonate Fuel Cell unit (commercial now). All three of these companies also have current high Capex costs but also with very aggressive cost downs. The ability to use a range of fuel is not unique to Bloom.

    3. Yes it is a picky point but it is worth pointing out that fuel cells cannot store energy. A reversible fuel cell produces electricity in one direction and if switched produces hydrogen going the other way – but you still need some form of storage for the hydrogen. The fuel cell is only a conversion device.

    The point is that yes fuel cells are disruptive but Bloom isn’t the only game in town – just the one with the best PR at the minute.

    Reply
  7. alyce santoro

    the fundamental problem is that americans are currently using TWICE the energy of their european counterparts, and FOUR TIMES as much as asians. why are so few people addressing the underlying issue – that americans need to start USING LESS? the bloom box is just one more expensive “gadget”, another potential magic bullet. it’s one more way to “buy” our way out of the environmental crisis, and yet another excuse for folks to put off doing anything until the perfect technology arrives. we have all the technology we need to cut our addiction to fossil fuel IMMEDIATELY – conservation is the most obvious, simple, cheap, immediate, and constructive method we have available to us. what if each of us vowed to use 50% of the resources we used last month this month? we could cut our emissions, fossil fuel use, and bills in half TODAY! please come join the movement to use less at http://www.facebook.com/pages/USE-HALF-NOW-CAMPAIGN/316473176497?ref=mf

    Reply
  8. longchamp

    okay, here we go again
    (i can see the same attitude in nick rosen,
    he calls the guy “hypemaster-general” ):

    citing,
    “the problem has been cost, and bloom energy have not solved that issue… and unlike most fuel cells, according to its makers,
    it is cheap to make”.

    okay – what i understand is that now is the right time
    to go into business with this sort of thing.
    i also understand that patents last only 10 years,
    and that bloom are being cautious about their come-on.
    seems they are trying to decide on what sort
    of cut they will be confronting us with…
    cheap to make, huh ?

    it looks to me that if they take half of what a
    normal battery setup costs, or the same if theirs
    last forever, they will be extremely successful,
    for at least ten years.
    if i had that chance, i would take it.

    these are only batteries tough, they are NOT generators.
    you cant just throw a piece of wood at the thing,
    or a bottle of ethanol, and it loads up…
    gotta have some additional tech in between,
    is it naught ?

    since production capacity in the us has dwindled
    to nearly nil by now,
    it will from then on be a chinese business anyway –
    then again most of us are just customers anyway,
    we were weened to be customers.
    we always buy cheapest, so have a care.

    i am looking forward to something more informative,
    it might save me uying more gel or agm batteries…
    technical comments please thanks, no philosophy.

    Reply

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