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Fuel Cell Marvel "Bloom Box" Gaining Momentum

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 4 years ago | from the new-hotboxing dept.

Power 562

Many sources are continuing to excitedly report on the latest in a long line of startups chasing the holy grail of power sources. This incarnation, the "Bloom Box" from Bloom Energy, promises a power-plant-in-a-box that you can literally put in your backyard, and has received backing from companies like eBay, Google, Staples, FedEx, and Walmart. CBS recently aired an exclusive interview with K.R. Sridhar about his shiny new box. "So what is a Bloom Box exactly? Well, $700,000 to $800,000 will buy you a 'corporate sized' unit. Inside the box are a unique kind of fuel cell consisting of ceramic disks coated with green and black 'inks.' The inks somehow transform a stream of methane (or other hydrocarbons) and oxygen into power, when the box heats up to its operating temperature of 1,000 degrees Celsius. To get a view of the cost and benefits, eBay installed 5 of the boxes nine months ago. It says it has saved $100,000 USD on energy since."

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FP (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31234832)

Notimetrfafristpost

Yo dwag (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31234846)

I hear you like bloom in your bloom so we put bloom in your bloom so you can bloom while you bloom.

Re:Yo dwag (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31235118)

I think I can safely say that you failed it.

mm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31234850)

Gaining momentum.. just attach a generator and queue the duck-and-cover themesong :)

About $2K savings per month (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31234856)

Cool, they will pay for themselves in about 30 years.

Re:About $2K savings per month (2, Insightful)

Kozar_The_Malignant (738483) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235488)

Not counting the cost of the methane or other hydrocarbon fuel.

Re:About $2K savings per month (4, Interesting)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235542)

Cool, they will pay for themselves in about 30 years.

That's if you only account for direct energy savings.

One important cost consideration is that this can be used to suplement/replace backup generators. Backup diesel systems are big, expensive, and (ideally) sit around doing nothing except during maintanence checks. A fuel cell can be run 24/7, meaning every penny you save from buying a (smaller) diesel backup and on fuel should get counted towards your cost savings.

Add in a healthy dollop of Federal/State subsidies and installing such tech makes good business sense.

Payback period? (4, Informative)

danbert8 (1024253) | more than 4 years ago | (#31234880)

Ok, so 5 units at 800,000 is 4 million. If they save 100,000/9 months, that's 133,333/year. So it'll only take them 30 years to repay the cost, assuming that money has no time value of course. Sounds like a poor investment to me.

Re:Payback period? (4, Informative)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 4 years ago | (#31234940)

The state of CA kicks in a few tax incentives and there are Federal incentives.

These are the first. Once production is geared up, the cost will come down, unless they are using unobtanium in the paints on the ceramic plates.

Re:Payback period? (5, Funny)

skirmish666 (1287122) | more than 4 years ago | (#31234966)

You're forgetting about the seller listing & paypal fees

Poor investment for whom? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31234972)

I'm betting there were some hefty tax incentives at play in this decision.

Re:Poor investment for whom? (4, Insightful)

sunking2 (521698) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235078)

We're also assuming that the cost given hasn't already taken that into account. This article is pure marketing, you can expect them to use every trick in the book.

Re:Payback period? (5, Insightful)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 4 years ago | (#31234978)

Well that assumes that power costs don't go up or that they don't go up as fast as the cost of natural gas.
Also it makes you less relient on the grid so it can act as a massive UPS. For a place like EBay a backup generator is going to be a small power plant so over all it could be a huge win.
The on thing that I wonder about is that 1000c temperature. That seems really high to me but the story is very short on details.

Re:Payback period? (2, Informative)

Rei (128717) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235070)

That's typical for ceramic fuel cells. These are very different from the PEMFCs that go into cars. They perform better and are cheaper per unit power than PEMFCs, but they generally only work for bulky, stationary installs.

Betting on natural gas prices rising slower than electricity prices seems a pretty dumb bet to me, personally.

Re:Payback period? (2, Insightful)

Orange Crush (934731) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235146)

Depends on where you get your electricity. If your neighborhood power plant has to burn nat gas too, but you can do it at home more efficiently, it will always be cheaper as long as that plant exists.

Re:Payback period? (5, Insightful)

Rei (128717) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235216)

Not necessarily. Many things favor central generation, including end-user distribution infrastructure, bulk buys, centralized maintenance, and -- here's a big one -- much longer lifespans than SOFCs.

And even if that wasn't the case, and even if we assume your scenario, the payback would be *at best* 30 years (not considering the time-value of money). To get under 30 years, you have to assume that the electricity costs rise *faster* than the NG costs, not at the same speed.

Re:Payback period? (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235368)

Yes and no.
By using these fuel cells as your main power source with the grid as a backup you can dispense with your standby generator and maybe even your UPS system in a data center.
That and deduct the cost of maintaining the the backup generators and UPS and they payback time may drop even more.
My guess that EBay worked out the math and it looked good.

Re:Payback period? (1)

DinDaddy (1168147) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235590)

Yes and no.
By using these fuel cells as your main power source with the grid as a backup you can dispense with your standby generator and maybe even your UPS system in a data center..

Are these FCs reliable enough that a company like eBay or Google can take that step with low enough risk?

Re:Payback period? (1)

amorsen (7485) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235196)

Betting on natural gas prices rising slower than electricity prices seems a pretty dumb bet to me, personally.

Indeed. Since natural gas is so easy to turn into electricity, it's unlikely that it'll ever get cheap without electricity becoming cheap as well.

Fuel cells aren't THAT much more efficient than large gas turbines + generators anyway.

Re:Payback period? (1)

danbert8 (1024253) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235190)

Yes, that is assuming power costs don't go up, but like I said it also doesn't include the time value of money. So it will pay itself off in 30 years if the increase in energy cost matched the inflation rate, which I don't think is too unreasonable seeming how a large portion of inflation is tied to the cost of energy. Natural gas as a fuel will explode (figuratively and literally) in the next decade if there isn't a carbon tax. I would bet the price of natural gas will either match inflation or fall relative to the CPI.

Re:Payback period? (2, Informative)

assantisz (881107) | more than 4 years ago | (#31234988)

You are forgetting the tax breaks the state of CA and the feds give you for going green. In the end a unit costs around $400k which cuts the time to 15 years. All that said, though, I hope money is not the only motivation why anybody would look into alternative energy sources.

Re:Payback period? (4, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235048)

All that said, though, I hope money is not the only motivation why anybody would look into alternative energy sources.

If it's not economically viable, it won't happen. The world doesn't run on good will, it runs on money.

Re:Payback period? (1)

assantisz (881107) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235124)

Until the world is not inhabitable anymore....

Re:Payback period? (5, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235402)

Yes, you are correct. If it's economically advantageous to individuals to make the planet uninhabitable, that is what will happen. In the same way, individual yeast in a jar of sugar water will ferment, ferment, ferment until the alcohol concentration is so high it kills them all. Each yeast is just doing what it needs to survive.

I'm not saying it's good, this is just how it is. If you want to save the world, you have to make it more profitable to save it than destroy it.

Re:Payback period? (1)

Orange Crush (934731) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235208)

There's the added benefit of backup power. Keep some nat gas storage tanks on site, and they become backup generators.

How is this "green"? (2, Interesting)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235072)

It might save money but how is this technology greener?

To me it sounds like they're burning methane.

Re:How is this "green"? (2, Interesting)

Rei (128717) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235120)

They tend to be more efficient than NG power plants... although not by much. This comes at notably greater cost, complexity, and shorter lifespan.

Re:How is this "green"? (1)

Yosho-sama (800703) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235466)

From the company: these devices can burn natural gasses that are plant derived as well.

Re:Payback period? (2, Insightful)

danbert8 (1024253) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235074)

Tax break costs just get passed around the population. Looking at the actual cost to produce decides the economics. Otherwise you're screwing others to make a profit yourself, which people hate about corporations, but seem to love about the government...

Re:Payback period? (4, Insightful)

sunking2 (521698) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235264)

The people of CA should be thrilled that while their taxes go up and state employees get furloughed they are helping to fund the energy usage of companies making huge profits. Just pointing out that tax breaks and incentives don't come from leprechauns and the end of the rainbow.

Re:Payback period? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31235386)

They might be thrilled, but from their record it doesn't seem that they have quite made the connection that tax breaks to a company = higher taxes for the people. Progressiveness in action.

Re:Payback period? (3, Insightful)

John Meacham (1112) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235424)

If it means we don't have to spend tax dollars on new power distribution infrastructure, then it can be a net win. It is entirely possible ebay's power requirements were overloading what the grid had to offer at that location.

Re:Payback period? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31235030)

you assume conventional sources of energy won't be going up. As oil/coal becomes more expensive, or if CO2 is taxed, the time required for repayment will change.

Re:Payback period? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31235042)

and assuming the cost of electricity remains the same, which is quite unlikely.

60 Minutes show: Inside the Bloom Box (3, Informative)

Futurepower(R) (558542) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235076)

There was a piece about that on yesterday's 60 Minutes show: A Peek Inside the Bloom Box. [youtube.com] The story is reported by Lesley Stahl, who was her usual self: "Wow! Gee Whiz! I want you to be impressed by technology, but I personally am not really interested in it."

Re:Payback period? (2, Interesting)

Fnkmaster (89084) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235134)

The missing piece in your math is government subsidization. In California, apparently there is a 20% direct government subsidy and a 30% tax credit, according to TFA on cbsnews.com, so the effective cost incurred to a company is only half the purchase price. If that means more like $350-$400k, that would be more like a 15 year payoff, which while still long, is definitely closer to being an attractive proposition for a business that can afford that kind of time horizon and can get asset-based financing at an attractive rate.

Re:Payback period? (3, Insightful)

danbert8 (1024253) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235242)

I'm not missing that piece... I intentionally left it out. That money comes out of the economy one way or another. Through company expenditure, the government taxing, or through inflationary spending, every dollar comes out of somebody's pocket. The government can't create value through subsidies and tax credits, they can only steal from Peter to pay Paul (not to mention some astronomical administrative costs).

Re:Payback period? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31235198)

Ok, so 5 units at 800,000 is 4 million. If they save 100,000/9 months, that's 133,333/year. So it'll only take them 30 years to repay the cost, assuming that money has no time value of course. Sounds like a poor investment to me.

yes, but if it follows the general trend of technology, better units will be less expensive in just a few years. Its always more expensive for first movers

Re:Payback period? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31235218)

if you WTFI
  "One reason the companies have signed up is that in California 20 percent of the cost is subsidized by the state, and there's a 30 percent federal tax break because it's a "green" technology."

so, you are missing a few variables.

Re:Payback period? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31235250)

Unless they meant they saved money over what they would have paid in that same time.

Re:Payback period? (1)

jbeaupre (752124) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235346)

Or maybe it's $100,000 saved after depreciation, or other accounting method. Since the article doesn't say, the $100k/9 months might be what's saved on top of capital costs, maintenance costs, fuel costs, etc.

Warning: Car analogy

It's like investing in a new car that is cheaper to fuel. You can compare fuel costs of your old car vs monthly payments plus fuel costs of your new car and state it as a savings per month. Yeah, when you pay off the car and a whole bunch of other stuff matters, same as for the fuel cells. But if you're happy with the monthly savings, then you're happy.

Re:Payback period? (1)

QuantumRiff (120817) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235438)

Actually, in California, the rebates for alternative energy can be up to half of the product cost. In fact, I think that 60 min video said that, so $400,000 each thats a $15 year payback, assuming energy prices stay exactly the same.

Re:Payback period? (1)

kill-1 (36256) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235468)

What you're missing is that alternative solutions like diesel generators don't come for free.

Re:Payback period? (2, Interesting)

rbrander (73222) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235514)

Assuming the median value of $750K/box, and that you need to save 5% of that per year to pay off a 5% mortgage, ($187k/yr, $140k/9-months) yes, they're screwed.

Very large corporate purchases that can get the business prime rate of 2.25% (Bank of Canada, today: http://www.bankofcanada.ca/en/rates/digest.html [bankofcanada.ca] ) would only need save $67,500 per year to make interest, leaving this project with another $60K/year to pay down principal...probably a 25-year payback.

IF the bloom box lasts 25 years and has little in the way of maintenance or replacements the whole time. In short, yes, they have to drop the capital outlay to make this work. But not by much! They are nearly there now, and it's early days.

Also, you're forgetting the money-cost of carbon. Which is right, there isn't one. Nobody will impose one until there are alternatives that allow such costs to not send civilization to a grinding halt.

The Bloom Box is advertised as 60% efficient at turning methane energy into electrical energy. The best most heat engines can do is about 35% - and that's for huge, billion-dollar coal plants.

By going to gas-fired generation, our costs all nearly double compared to coal, but our carbon output drops by a good half. The Bloom Box could let it drop by three-quarters. Moreover, it effectively doubles the gas supply by using half as much to get the same electricity.

"Half" is good, but not good enough to level off carbon in the atmosphere. Three-quarters, now you're talking.

All that said, I don't imagine multi-billion-dollar, gigawatt Bloom Box power plants in our future. If they can indeed make the costs really drop, then I can see any kind of rural area, hard to put on the grid, going to these for distributed power generation.

And the developing world, where the grid hasn't reached half of humanity yet - well, it could be just huge. There's insane amounts of gas in Russia, an overland pipeline away from China and India, and nearly as vast amounts in the Arabian Gulf, not so far from Africa and less-developed parts of the middle east.

If these places can develop a low-carbon power solution, especially if China could quit opening a sulfurous brown-coal plant EVERY WEEK, it could be a big chunk of the solution.

Re:Payback period? (1)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235552)

Very poor, considering you 30 year treasury bonds are paying about 4.5%. So they could take that $4 million and get $180,000 a year clipping coupons...

Re:Payback period? (1)

Chuckles08 (1277062) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235564)

Even leaving out tax incentives, it should be noted that these calculations on non-mass produced versions. Driving the costs of manufacturing is certainly the key here but should be doable... Someone always has to pay a higher upfront cost on new technology to make it widespread. Look at flash drives... It would be interesting to see how much fuel the eBay units are consuming although I suppose someone could calculate that based on their claimed savings and percentage of power they are getting from 5 units.

REq (4, Funny)

binarylarry (1338699) | more than 4 years ago | (#31234890)

K.R. Sridhar's only response when questioned how it worked was: "Who run Barter Town?"

Master Blaster Run Barter Town! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31235142)

Not shit, ENERGY!

Re:REq (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31235462)

This better not be another hoax. Bust a deal, face the wheel.

How is that a win? (0, Redundant)

sprag (38460) | more than 4 years ago | (#31234892)

So if they bought 5 of these at $800,000 then they've sunk in $4,000,000. Over 9 months they've saved $100,000 which is a total of $11,111 a month. In 30 years they'll break even?

Re:How is that a win? (1)

MrMista_B (891430) | more than 4 years ago | (#31234964)

It's called economy of scale. Yes, 5 of the first run were $800,000.

But if this takes off, with mass production, financed by initial investments, that $800,000 figure will go down as both manufacturing efficiencies improve and bulk orders increase.

Take a power of ten, given the above - 5 of these at $80,000, for a net investment of $400,000. With the same savings of $100,000 over 9 months, they'll break even a hell of a lot sooner.

And with the amount of power that Google alone uses, imagine if they purchased ten thousand of these, how much they'd save?

Self-hosted? (4, Insightful)

ewg (158266) | more than 4 years ago | (#31234902)

Does anybody know if Bloom Energy eats their own dog food? Do they power their own offices, labs, and other facilities with Bloom Boxes?

Re:Self-hosted? (1)

DMUTPeregrine (612791) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235444)

Depending on profit margins it may be more economical for them to run off the grid than to sink the cost of making an extra few to power themselves. Sure, they can use their own prototypes, and these are good if you plan to be around for a few (30 at current costs) years, but turning potential short-term profit into long-term savings might be a bad idea if your margins aren't high enough to support it.

By my math... (1, Redundant)

cranky_chemist (1592441) | more than 4 years ago | (#31234908)

5 * ($800,000) = $4 Million. At current energy prices, saving $100,000 every 9 months would mean they recoup their initial investment in about 30 years. I'll pass.

Re:By my math... (4, Informative)

McBeer (714119) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235108)

5 * ($800,000) = $4 Million. At current energy prices, saving $100,000 every 9 months would mean they recoup their initial investment in about 30 years. I'll pass.

Yeah right now the ROI (3.3%) doesn't even keep up with average anual inflation (3.4%), but I think they are cutting it some slack as it's a very new technology that has yet to benefit from mass production and innovations in the production process. Later on it could prove to be an excellent investment.

Re:By my math... (1)

John Meacham (1112) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235494)

Or they needed a backup power solution anyway, the diesel generators needed for backup power at data centers are immense expensive beasts that could easily be comparable in cost. This way they can kill two birds with one stone. Getting their backup generators and having them be efficient enough to use for general power production so they arn't just dead weight during the time there isn't an emergency. Seems like a big win actually.

Re:By my math... (2, Interesting)

tthomas48 (180798) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235528)

I've heard rumors that energy prices might be volatile. Have you heard of this thing called "insurance", where you pay a set amount per month to prevent massive unexpected costs?

This is what separates the smart companies from the ones run by MBAs.

Need more details (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 4 years ago | (#31234918)

This sounds like just a hydrogen fuel cell. The breakthrough would be if they managed to build one without a platinum catalyst, thus lowering the price. Also, these are much more cost effective if you also capture all the waste heat and use it for heating as well as electrical generation, hence the emphasis on small private units instead of a centralized generation plant.

Re:Need more details (1)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 4 years ago | (#31234994)

That's apparently the main point of their invention, that it doesn't require exotic materials that aren't found on the Earth in abundance.

Re:Need more details (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 4 years ago | (#31234996)

instead of platinum, Sridhar uses a cheap metal alloy.

You paint that on either side of this white ceramic to get a green layer and a black layer. And... that's it.

Any guesses?

Re:Need more details (5, Informative)

mprinkey (1434) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235186)

These are solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs). The catalyst is probably a little bit of nickel or some other fairly abundant metal. Platinum and/or palladium are needed as catalysts only for low temperature polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells.

Also, PEM fuel cells can be poisoned by carbon in the fuel stream. SOFCs can pretty easily oxidize CO and H2 and possibly even CH4 or C2H6 due to water-gas shift reactions.

IAA Mech Eng. I spent six years writing software to model both kinds of fuel cells.

Re:Need more details (1)

Martin Blank (154261) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235426)

If I read your post right, this kind of concept could not work in device-level fuel cells, correct? The temps would have to come down for a notebook battery, for example, or even a notebook recharger, which would make this an ineffective solution for that, whereas platinum or palladium would work there.

Re:Need more details (1)

McBeer (714119) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235300)

This sounds like just a hydrogen fuel cell. The breakthrough would be if they managed to build one without a platinum catalyst, thus lowering the price.

From the TFA "Inside the box, one disc can produce energy to "power a lightbulb" (60 W, assuming a full power lightbulb). The discs are produced from baked sand and then painted on each side with the special ink. In between the discs an inexpensive metal (not platinum) is placed. According to Mr. Sridhar, 64 discs could power a Starbucks."

That said, even without platinum, these things are damn expensive.

Magic (3, Insightful)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 4 years ago | (#31234930)

They give no explanation of how it works. "The inks somehow transform a stream of methane (or other hydrocarbons) and oxygen into power, when the box heats up to its operating temperature of 1,000 degrees Celsius." Where have I heard claims like this before? Oh yeah from the proponents of various perpetual motion machines.
Of course, people have been turning hydrocarbons and oxygen into power at well below 1,000 degrees Celsius for a long time now. It's called a combustion engine.

Re:Magic (5, Interesting)

Orange Crush (934731) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235102)

Methane fuel cells are nothing new and a certainly NOT perpetual motion machines. All that's really happening is that they're yanking off the extra electrons from the chemical reaction to generate electricity directly rather than burning the fuel and using a heat engine to harness the energy. No fuel, no energy.

What's novel about this is he thinks he can make them without the use of precious metals and other high costs that keep previous fuel cell designs from being adopted more widely.

Re:Magic (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235504)

Yes, but if it is a methane fuel cell, why doesn't he say that? Why doesn't he say, "This is a fuel cell that we have figured out how to make without using precous metals"?
Of course, the other thing is that they have yet to make these without the high costs of previous fuel cell designs.

Re:Magic (1)

NEDHead (1651195) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235116)

Well, at least it is operating at a high temp, much higher than internal combustion. That may be the main source of increased efficiency. Back in the day when Chrysler and others were working on turbines for cars, high temp operation was a main goal - and stumbling block.

Re:Magic (1)

amorsen (7485) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235294)

Well, at least it is operating at a high temp, much higher than internal combustion.

Fuel cells aren't heat engines. There's no law stopping you from having a 80% efficient fuel cell at 0 Celcius. Maybe one day we'll find the materials which can accomplish that.

Re:Magic (1)

NEDHead (1651195) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235568)

Ah, my bad perhaps. No suggestion really that much of the energy is going into heat, just that the components were at a high temp. Re smog issues listed below: Also a function of pressure. Not sure how that fits into a turbine.

Re:Magic (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235352)

In cars, the problem is that higher temperatures leads to Nitrogen Oxides, which contribute to smog.

Since this thing burns Air and Fuel, he needs some secret sauce to keep the NOx compounds from forming, or some way to break them down after they are created. Perhaps the Nitrogen won't pass whatever barrier that keeps the electrodes apart.

Re:Magic (1)

bloobloo (957543) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235458)

The problem with high temperature operation of combustion engines is that you generate lots of NOx, which you don't want unless you like smog. If you can carry out the reaction at high temperatures and prevent oxidation of nitrogen, then you've got a significant improvement.

Amazing (3, Funny)

Hatta (162192) | more than 4 years ago | (#31234936)

A box that converts hydrocarbons to energy? What will they think of next?

Beowulf cluster of power? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31234948)

         

What makes it run? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31234954)

What exactly powers these boxes? The details in the given article are really vague...Also if it produces waste, how is it any better than traditional power generation techniques?

Re:What makes it run? (1)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235212)

You can use the waste heat to heat the offices/home.

The power seems to come from a chemical reaction between the free oxygen and hydrocarbons.

I think the details are vague on purpose.

(Only) saves transmission costs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31234990)

It still turns gas into electricity like a powerplant, it still produces CO2 like a gas fired powerplant, the efficiency is a big question but is probably higher (direct electron transmission vs comustion) which however assumes 100% utilisation; you save the power cost of transmission but incur the cost of gas transport. In conclusion: Hm, interesting.

Worth it? (2, Insightful)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235008)

eBay says they installed 5 of the devices (at $700-800k each) nine months ago and have saved $100,000 since. Doing the math, each device is saving them about $27k a year, meaning that it will take right around 28 years to recoup the investment. Worse, the actual ROI on the purchase is a whopping 3.6%, and that's assuming that natural gas prices don't increase since it is still burning gas as fuel. Other than saving space, how is this better than solar panels which typically have a 15-20 year payoff period?

Ok, if the price quoted is before federal and state subsidies (California I would imagine has some pretty good clean energy grants), that might change the equations a bit. But even if the price was cut in half, the ROI would only be 7.2 percent, I thought companies like eBay and Google tended to be a bit more aggressive with their investments than that.

Over the hedge (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235158)

that's assuming that natural gas prices don't increase since it is still burning gas as fuel.

As natural gas prices go up, the price of natural gas-fired electric power will go up, so Bloom Box users save on the mark-up.

Other than saving space, how is this better than solar panels which typically have a 15-20 year payoff period?

Photovoltaic and photothermal power sources have problems at night, on cloudy days, and far from the equator.

But even if the price was cut in half, the ROI would only be 7.2 percent

For one thing, Bloom is looking at cutting the price further than half. For another, the return on investment from a Bloom Box isn't purely monetary; it's also a hedge against relative prices of different forms of power.

Re:Worth it? (1)

Byzantine (85549) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235304)

According to the 60 Minutes piece last night, the $800k is before subsidies, which bring the price per unit down to around $400k-$500k.

Re:Worth it? (4, Insightful)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235530)

Other than saving space, how is this better than solar panels which typically have a 15-20 year payoff period?

It runs their servers when there's a rolling blackout and the sun isn't shining.

Looks like the real thing this time! (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31235068)

The fact they are in use with major corporations means it's not snake oil. The only question is cost. The first units are very expensive because they are hand built but according to the inventor they use no rare or expensive materials. If that's true then the costs will drop like a rock once they are mass produced. Fuel cells are nothing new he's just come up with a cheap cell. Most will be skeptical but this time it seems real. We aren't talking about wild claims they are in use now and even at the early adopter price the users seem very happy with them. If they can drop the price even to twice his claim they'll be a bargain.

Also I see no reason they wouldn't work for a car. The cell size would be half what a whole house unit would be and they'd be light. Just switch to LP gas and you have an electric car with an excellent range and lightweight. If the pricing is right in ten years they could cost a fraction of what a battery pack does making an LP gas electric car even cheaper than a regular car and likely with a similar range. Yes I know infrastructure but here's a shocker, I can get LP tanks at a 7/11! They are readily available now! If you have a LP gas for heat and cooking you could fill up at home!

Evironmentally...more of the same? (2, Interesting)

Saishuuheiki (1657565) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235126)

They tried to gloss over it, but in the end it still takes in oxygen and releases CO2 while burning hydrocarbons. Sounds more like a more efficient version of current power systems than a alternative energy source.

The only upsides I can see is possible improvement in efficiency, decrease of cost, and less loss in transmission (since theoretically it's closer to whatever is using the power than a power plant). Now since they haven't actually given us any details on how these, I can't consider it a revolution.

That's not to say it wouldn't be good to buy some stock when it IPOs...just it may not be a good idea to hold it long

Re:Evironmentally...more of the same? (1)

Kagato (116051) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235350)

Essentially yes. The stated emission is 50% of a natural gas generation. Most likely because it uses 50% less gas for the same power.

Why won't the power companies buy them? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31235160)

Why would anyone ever install the technology as a primary power source in a store or datacenter that had access to the power grid? If the technology is that good, the power companies will buy it and use it to generate the power themselves.

Re:Why won't the power companies buy them? (1)

Orange Crush (934731) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235288)

Redundancy. Tanks + Fuel Cells = backup generator.

The Secret Ink... (2, Funny)

jeillah (147690) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235164)

...is made from Energizer Bunny blood!!!

Interesting but not yet revolutionary (2, Insightful)

EriktheGreen (660160) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235178)

This is a neat idea... but the cost of the units is obviously prohibitive at the moment. People (generalizing) will pay a bit more for guaranteed clean energy, especially if at some point it has little or no ongoing cost. But they won't pay for something that has a 30 year break even unless the devices last that long without any significant maintenance (added cost).

If mass production brought the costs down, I could see this being an interesting alternative for folks not well served (in one way or another, including cost) by existing power utilities. Provided of course the machine with its "secret" components doesn't create other problems, like being non recyclable, or being hazardous in some other way.

This is more revolutionary for the third world though.. any country without an existing power infrastructure or with a less than robust one could install a lower cost version of this unit at a lower price than creating a country wide power distribution network. We may see a time in the near future where the third world countries are running off of these sorts of micro power plants while the US still gets its energy centrally, from big expensive power plants.

Green is good, but people won't do it unless it's cheap too. We're kinda dumb that way.

Retro (2, Funny)

NEDHead (1651195) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235260)

I'll be in line when it can fit on my shoulder, and I can dance in my plaid bellbottoms and funky shades

Was on 60 minutes. Many companies make these (1)

zymano (581466) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235302)

It's a fuel cell. You can see vid at 60min website.

An analyst said GE will overtake them.

Fuel and Oxygen (1, Funny)

emagery (914122) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235342)

Okay okay... so this is a 'green' technology. The 60 minutes report I saw had it cutting one source of fuel for one entity (some campus and using natural gas) down by 50%. That, in itself is great.... but wait. Oxygen and 'fuel' are used. I realize that concern about too much CO2 in the air is one thing, but there is also the issue of too little O2 in the air. It is not a life-threatening issue yet, but could potentially be with all the combustion of fuels, declining forests and, now, these miracle machines. How much O2 do they consume? What'll happen when there's pentillions of them doing their thing all around the world? A lot of the consequences of industrialism were not immediately foreseen... but this time around, this one makes me wonder.

Fuel Cells, better than Natural Gas Electric PWR. (4, Insightful)

jameskojiro (705701) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235372)

Sounds like this converts Natural Gas into electricity, what a lot of people don't realize is that a lot of our electrical power comes from Natural Gas being burned in motors that TURN generators. They are either Turbines or conventional large internal combustion engines that turn those generators, the conventional way of turning chemical energy into electrical energy is very poor and a lot of energy is wasted as heat energy. Sounds like these Boxes or "Heat Catalyzing Fuel Cells" could be far more efficient and if can be scaled up could be used to stretch the fossil fuel buck a whole lot more and easily be scaled to bio fuels.

Biogas (1)

Animal Farm Pig (1600047) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235410)

If they wanted to use this in a more environmentally friendly way, perhaps they could run biogas [wikipedia.org] through the devices. Upgrade the sewage system and make energy at the same time! :)

Re:Biogas (2, Informative)

Yosho-sama (800703) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235596)

Bloom has stated that their devices are capable of running off biogas.

Or you could spend less and get more... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31235416)

I've been watching another company for a while, waiting for them to offer their fuel cells here. http://www.cfcl.com.au/

Saw this coming. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31235428)

I worked on a machine that was part of the production of the ceramic layers for a very similar process, in this case, extracting certain gasses from atmospheric air. If this is the same technology, the ceramic, at least in the stage we processed it, looked like a refrigerator magnet, it's suspended in some kind of polymer. That was years ago, and they were talking about the technology possibly leading up to something like this. If the technology ever reached the point where they could extract the two fuel components (hopefully with some sort of renewable power source) this would be very promising tech for on-location power generation.

Methane Powered? (2, Funny)

The Insane One (25793) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235432)

Excellent! Mine will be self-powered.

Breaking the Laws of Thermodynamics (1)

handy_vandal (606174) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235490)

Just as soon as someone invents a perpetual motion machine, I'm going to invent a time machine, so I can go back in time and steal that perpetual motion machine!

CO2 Emissions (1)

upmufa (702569) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235498)

It takes in hydrocarbons and oxygen and puts out energy? Am I a skeptic for thinking that this thing must be releasing lots of CO2? I cannot find any description of how it works. I have no doubt that it produces energy, but if it is producing gaseous CO2, it won't really help with the fundamental problem.

What does it really cost to make? (0, Offtopic)

kurt555gs (309278) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235502)

Out of that $700,000 how much does it cost to manufacture? How much is the markup? Most of these magic snake oil things have a huge percentage of the price going to the patent holder. Lets say it costs $100,000 to make and the other $600K is going to Mr Snake. How is that good for anyone?

If it is REAL, maybe we "the government" should use eminent domain and make the technology available for everyone. Why let the greed of Mr Snake hinder us all?

More Information on fuel cells. (4, Informative)

nmonsey (785344) | more than 4 years ago | (#31235598)

Here is a quote from the EETimes article. "The resultant Bloom Boxes are not inexpensive today— about $750,000 for a unit capable of running a household (about four to six units are needed to run a typical data center). But within five to 10 years the company promises to reduce the price to as little as $3,000" These fuel cell are not being mass produced yet. Please read about fuel cells before making any judgments about the technology. http://www.fuelcelltoday.com/online/news [fuelcelltoday.com] http://www.fuelcells.org/news/updates.html [fuelcells.org] There are many other companies working on similar fuell cells for homes and vehicles that have already been in use for several years.
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