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  • The Bloom Box



    Bloom Energy unveils its 'Bloom Box' fuel cell

    Bloom Energy, a Sunnyvale startup that has been working for years on a fuel cell that would allow homes and businesses to generate their own electricity, officially unveiled its so-called Bloom Box at a highly orchestrated media event Wednesday morning.

    Tech journalists joined Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bloom cofounder and CEO K.R. Sridhar, venture capitalist John Doerr and former Secretary of State Colin Powell at eBay's San Jose headquarters to learn how Bloom, which has raised about $400 million from investors, plans to mass produce its solid oxide fuel cells.

    Google, FedEx and Wal-Mart are among the companies beta-testing the technology; several Bloom Boxes are in use on the eBay campus.

    EBay started using five Bloom Energy Servers in July. They produce electricity to power space for 2,000 to 3,000 employees and shaved $100,000 off eBay's power bill, says Amy Skoczlas Cole, director of eBay's Green Team. EBay uses natural gas in the boxes but will switch to methane gas from an Oklahoma landfill this spring.

    But they're not cheap: The commercial-scale boxes, which look like a big refrigerator, cost $700,000 to $800,000. Read the full article.
    The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough?
    60 Minutes Video

    60 Minutes ran this story on Sunday, and I must say it's very interesting to me. First, I'm impressed that American companies are still trying to be innovators. Second, why not try to develop every possible source of alternative energy that we can. But, the effectiveness of this device and others like it remains to be seen.
    |TG-X| mp40x



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  • #2
    Re: The Bloom Box

    It seems kinda pointless to me. It burns* gas, and makes electricity? That's not exactly all that revolutionary. Why should I care?


    (*technically its not being burned, its being catalyzed. But the result is the same, so again, who cares?)

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: The Bloom Box

      Originally posted by Kerostasis View Post
      It seems kinda pointless to me. It burns* gas, and makes electricity? That's not exactly all that revolutionary. Why should I care?
      Seriously, the 'why should I care' comment sounds a bit curmudgeon. But ignoring that, here's my take on the Bloom Energy Server. If this is a viable alternative source of electricity -that proves to be cleaner, cheaper, and as reliable as the current sources- then great. The truth is we just don't know yet. Here's a article on how it actually works, according to Bloom Energy:

      Bloom Energy Unveils 'Bloom Box', Fuel Cells
      How it works

      The Bloom fuel cell is a solid-oxide cell, as opposed to the more common proton-exchange membrane fuel cells. Solid-oxide fuel cells typically require high temperatures to operate, but Sridhar said they will produce temperatures of no more than 800 degrees centigrade, about half the temperature generated internally by a home furnace.

      The secret sauce? Zirconium oxide, a compound derived from sand. It was discovered in the mid-1980s, according to Sridhar, and is used to create a disc, which is painted with the "ink." Sridhar called the technology "powder to power".

      The Bloom Energy servers are constructed of individual fuel cells, made up of the discs. Each disc generates about 20 watts, about the amount needed to power a standard light bulb. Stacked, they can generate one kilowatt, or enough to power a home. In a module, they can produce 25 kilowatts. The so-called Bloom Box combines enough cells to generate 100 kW. Like a hard drive in a server, the individual cells can be hot-swapped or replaced.

      The Bloom Energy Server converts air and nearly any fuel source ranging from natural gas to a wide range of biogases into electricity via a clean electrochemical process, the company said. Natural gas remains the fuel of choice, although biogas - harvesting methane from decomposing organic products - would be the fuel of choice if it were more commercially available, Sridhar said.

      The Energy Server uses thousands of fuel cells, each using ceramic squares coated with Bloom's proprietary "ink". The individual cells can fail, Sridhar acknowledged, but would not disclose the failure rate of individual cells.
      My biggest question is how much natural gas does it actually use, because natural gas is the only fuel readily available at the moment. They say it can use various biogases including methane gas. One would hope that eventually -if the Bloom Box proves to be successful- that methane gas could be used as it is created from 'decomposing organic products'.

      Originally posted by Kerostasis View Post
      (*technically its not being burned, its being catalyzed. But the result is the same, so again, who cares?)
      Is the result the same? I assume your talking about combustion vs electrochemical, the latter would obviously be cleaner. Therefore saying 'the result is the same' doesn't make sense.

      Can This Object Save the World?

      Sridhar's invention converts air and nearly any fuel source -- ranging from natural gas to a wide range of biogases -- into electricity via a clean electrochemical process, rather than dirty combustion. Even running on a fossil fuel, the systems are approximately 67% cleaner than a typical coal-fired power plant, explains Bloom. When powered by a renewable fuel, the company's Energy Server can be 100% cleaner. Each Energy Server consists of thousands of Bloom's fuel cells, flat, solid ceramic squares made from a common sand-like "powder."
      |TG-X| mp40x



      Register for the Forums! | Get on Teamspeak! | Play Squad! | Join Discord! | Support Tactical Gamer!

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: The Bloom Box

        Fuel cells use hydrogen, natural gas, methane or other fuels to produce electricity through an electro-chemical process that produces a fraction of the emissions of a typical power plant.
        It's basically a generator, like one you'd use to keep your house powered when the utility is down. Note that it's still generating CO2 and water as the result of combining a hydrocarbon and oxygen. You probably get less nitrogen compounds because it's operating at much lower temperature than a combustion generator.

        The value in this technology is in generator replacement (which is why someone like Google would be interested in it) and in portability (ie. for remote villages where there's no utility).
        Dude, seriously, WHAT handkerchief?

        snooggums' density principal: "The more dense a population, the more dense a population."

        Iliana: "You're a great friend but if we're ever chased by zombies I'm tripping you."

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        • #5
          Re: The Bloom Box

          The key points I gathered from that vid and a few related articles elsewhere are: 1. efficiency 2. fewer hazardous byproducts compared to conventional generator and power plants 3. Portability

          The company has supposedly filed patents to turn some of the byproducts produced by the bloom box into fuel it can use to create more energy, but it isn't in the product currently being developed. This may or may not be revolutionary, but it certainly has the potential to be a big step forward in the evolution of viable fuel cell tech.



          TacticalGamer TX LAN/BBQ Veteran

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          • #6
            Re: The Bloom Box

            Decentralization of the power grid isn't a bad thing either, in my eyes.
            Do or do not, there is no try....
            -- Yoda, Dagobah

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            • #7
              Re: The Bloom Box

              Originally posted by mp40x View Post
              My biggest question is how much natural gas does it actually use, because natural gas is the only fuel readily available at the moment.
              Well, calculate how much natural gas you would need to burn in a natural gas furnace...and you'll need approximately that much in a natural gas fuel cell. Might be a few percent less, but not significantly so. The fuel source is the same, and carries the same amount of available power.

              Is the result the same? I assume your talking about combustion vs electrochemical, the latter would obviously be cleaner. Therefore saying 'the result is the same' doesn't make sense.
              Why would it be "obviously" cleaner? The chemical reaction involved is the same reaction. It is taking place at a lower temperature due to the catalyzation, which helps reduce undesirable side-reactions, but natural gas is a very clean fuel to begin with that doesn't have all that many side-reactions.

              Fuel Cell technology has certain very valuable applications -- but most of those involve power storage, not generation. Fuel cells can be used as highly advanced batteries, but they don't really offer much new as a primary power source. Unless I'm totally missing something here?

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: The Bloom Box

                Originally posted by Kerostasis View Post
                Why would it be "obviously" cleaner? The chemical reaction involved is the same reaction. It is taking place at a lower temperature due to the catalyzation, which helps reduce undesirable side-reactions, but natural gas is a very clean fuel to begin with that doesn't have all that many side-reactions.

                Fuel Cell technology has certain very valuable applications -- but most of those involve power storage, not generation. Fuel cells can be used as highly advanced batteries, but they don't really offer much new as a primary power source. Unless I'm totally missing something here?
                My chemistry is a bit rusty, but I don't see how combustion vs fuel cell is the same reaction. Unless you meant they both involve oxidation rxns.

                Combustion of natural gas, assuming it's mostly methane:
                CH4 + 2O2 → CO2 + 2H2O + energy in the form of heat and light

                The bloom box looks like it's a type of solid oxide fuel cell which typically operate at high temperatures (1000C +). If this is the case, it's certainly feasible that the heat allows for fuel recovery reactions to take place -- IIRC, steam recovery process produces H2.

                Solid oxide fuel cell reaction is something like this:
                Cathode: O2 + 4e- → O=
                Anode: 2H2 + 2O= → 4e- + H2O ; the H2 is supplied via oxidation of fuel.

                I might have the anode and cathode mixed up.

                The bottom line is that if a fuel cell is fed with a steady supply of fuel and can function reliably for prolonged periods under high temperatures, then it should be able to function as a generator.



                TacticalGamer TX LAN/BBQ Veteran

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: The Bloom Box

                  No matter what, the carbon atoms have to go somewhere.

                  If the O2 is from air, then with normal combustion you've got a huge nitrogen source present and that generates a bunch of unwanted nitrogen oxides (ie. chemical smog). Does a high temp fuel cell have the same issue?

                  If your fuel supply is natural gas, you either supply it from the city main, and hence it's not decentralized, or you supply it from a tank, and you have to provide transportation (truck, train, plane) for that. You have to factor in the cost of building and supplying the main, or the cost of each load of transported fuel. (And cost includes environmental cost.)
                  Dude, seriously, WHAT handkerchief?

                  snooggums' density principal: "The more dense a population, the more dense a population."

                  Iliana: "You're a great friend but if we're ever chased by zombies I'm tripping you."

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: The Bloom Box

                    Originally posted by Kerostasis View Post
                    Well, calculate how much natural gas you would need to burn in a natural gas furnace...and you'll need approximately that much in a natural gas fuel cell. Might be a few percent less, but not significantly so. The fuel source is the same, and carries the same amount of available power.



                    Why would it be "obviously" cleaner? The chemical reaction involved is the same reaction. It is taking place at a lower temperature due to the catalyzation, which helps reduce undesirable side-reactions, but natural gas is a very clean fuel to begin with that doesn't have all that many side-reactions.

                    Fuel Cell technology has certain very valuable applications -- but most of those involve power storage, not generation. Fuel cells can be used as highly advanced batteries, but they don't really offer much new as a primary power source. Unless I'm totally missing something here?
                    In the story they said it uses about half.

                    I think you are missing something.

                    As gunjunkie pointed out the power grid could be decentralized.

                    It sounds like it is much more efficient. Line losses go away. Less natural gas is used to produce the same amount of electricity.

                    Things like ice storms and hurricanes will have less impact. Recovery after those things will be faster so their costs, both monetary and human, go down.

                    People will be more aware and probably take more responsibility for their energy use because the supply is limited to the units they have decided to buy. I think energy efficient appliances will be more popular.

                    You can use pure hydrogen in which case there is no carbon involved. This hydrogen could be supplied by small solar array. This solar array could be much smaller than what is needed for electricity generation. Natural gas or LP gas could be a supplemental fuel.

                    Waste gas from garbage dumps could be more effectively used.

                    Increasingly people do not want big power stations located near them. Getting government permission to get them built is a pain and expensive.

                    Developing countries could really benefit from this.

                    I bet there are many other benefits. Those are just the ones off the top of my head.
                    Im not racists, I have republican friends. Radio show host.
                    - "The essence of tyranny is the denial of complexity". -Jacob Burkhardt
                    - "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" - Emerson
                    - "People should not be afraid of it's government, government should be afraid of it's People." - Line from V for Vendetta
                    - If software were as unreliable as economic theory, there wouldn't be a plane made of anything other than paper that could get off the ground. Jim Fawcette
                    - "Let me now state what seems to me the decisive objection to any conservatism which deserves to be called such. It is that by its very nature it cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving." -Friedrich Hayek
                    - "Don't waist your time on me your already the voice inside my head." Blink 182 to my wife

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                    • #11
                      Re: The Bloom Box

                      Even running on a fossil fuel, the systems are approximately 67% cleaner than a typical coal-fired power plant, explains Bloom.
                      This is the most important part. Now it does not compare it to a similar fossil fuel (such as natural gas generators) but if it even has a 5% cleaner process and the fuel cell itself isn't too bad to make then the real benefits are in reduced pollution.
                      |TG-6th|Snooggums

                      Just because everyone does something does not mean that it is right to do.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: The Bloom Box

                        One thing I didn't mention is DC (direct current) becomes possible. Using DC tends to be much more efficient.
                        Im not racists, I have republican friends. Radio show host.
                        - "The essence of tyranny is the denial of complexity". -Jacob Burkhardt
                        - "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" - Emerson
                        - "People should not be afraid of it's government, government should be afraid of it's People." - Line from V for Vendetta
                        - If software were as unreliable as economic theory, there wouldn't be a plane made of anything other than paper that could get off the ground. Jim Fawcette
                        - "Let me now state what seems to me the decisive objection to any conservatism which deserves to be called such. It is that by its very nature it cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving." -Friedrich Hayek
                        - "Don't waist your time on me your already the voice inside my head." Blink 182 to my wife

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: The Bloom Box

                          Natural gas is a fossil fuel. Which fossil fuel are they referring to?

                          How would solar->hydrogen->fuel-cell->electricity be more efficient than solar->electricity?

                          Electrical line losses are currently mitigated by transmitting at very high voltages, to reduce the current. The high voltage is stepped down at several stages as it gets closer to the end user, using transformers. Transformers don't work with DC.

                          About the AC/DC wars:

                          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_of_Currents

                          Some interesting stuff at the end of that article about modern use of high voltage DC for long-distance transmission.

                          AC is also useful in reducing arcing in switches. When a switch opens, the current doesn't want to stop flowing, so it wants to arc. The 60 Hz AC crosses zero volts every 8 milliseconds, much faster than the movement of the switch, reducing the time it arcs.

                          http://www.allaboutcircuits.com/vol_4/chpt_4/2.html

                          It is common to find general-purpose switch contact voltage and current ratings to be greater on any given switch or relay if the electric power being switched is AC instead of DC. The reason for this is the self-extinguishing tendency of an alternating-current arc across an air gap. Because 60 Hz power line current actually stops and reverses direction 120 times per second, there are many opportunities for the ionized air of an arc to lose enough temperature to stop conducting current, to the point where the arc will not re-start on the next voltage peak. DC, on the other hand, is a continuous, uninterrupted flow of electrons which tends to maintain an arc across an air gap much better.
                          Dude, seriously, WHAT handkerchief?

                          snooggums' density principal: "The more dense a population, the more dense a population."

                          Iliana: "You're a great friend but if we're ever chased by zombies I'm tripping you."

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: The Bloom Box

                            Originally posted by ScratchMonkey View Post
                            How would solar->hydrogen->fuel-cell->electricity be more efficient than solar->electricity?
                            There isn't a really good way to store the excess energy produced. And to get decent amounts of usable electricity on demand requires pretty big arrays of solar panels. This then requires the wiring to large battery banks.

                            Most batteries are not very efficient. Newer technologies are better but are very expensive. Plus they take up large amounts of space. Most homes don't have the space needed. You have to worry about discharge of the batteries over time.

                            I also think the fuel cells operate better with hydrogen as the fuel source.

                            If the DC source is actually in the house then you do not need high voltage. High voltage does limit losses but does not remove them. It is estimated that it is around 7-8%. The added cost and complexity of using those voltages must also be taken into consideration.

                            Low voltage DC is also safer. Less likely to have dangerous shocks, house fires etc.
                            Im not racists, I have republican friends. Radio show host.
                            - "The essence of tyranny is the denial of complexity". -Jacob Burkhardt
                            - "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" - Emerson
                            - "People should not be afraid of it's government, government should be afraid of it's People." - Line from V for Vendetta
                            - If software were as unreliable as economic theory, there wouldn't be a plane made of anything other than paper that could get off the ground. Jim Fawcette
                            - "Let me now state what seems to me the decisive objection to any conservatism which deserves to be called such. It is that by its very nature it cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving." -Friedrich Hayek
                            - "Don't waist your time on me your already the voice inside my head." Blink 182 to my wife

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: The Bloom Box

                              Good points. I completely forgot about the battery issue and the fact that sunlight isn't available all the time. (Kinda like that joke about the astronauts who went on a mission to land on the sun. "What will you do to avoid being burned by its terrible heat?" "Oh, we'll go at night." ;))

                              Have there been any proposals for what's a reasonable DC voltage to use in a house distribution system? I'd guess 24 VDC, as that's a fairly common input for switching supplies.
                              Dude, seriously, WHAT handkerchief?

                              snooggums' density principal: "The more dense a population, the more dense a population."

                              Iliana: "You're a great friend but if we're ever chased by zombies I'm tripping you."

                              Comment

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