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New Fuel Cell Twice As Efficient As Generators

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the when-and-how-much dept.

Power 246

Hank Green writes "A new kind of Solid Oxide Fuel Cell has been developed that can consume any kind of fuel, from hydrogen to bio-diesel; it is over two times more efficient than traditional generators. Acumentrics is attempting to market the technology to off-grid applications (like National Parks) and also for home use as personal Combined Heat and Power plants that are extremely efficient (half as carbon-intensive as grid power.)"

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The Product Page (4, Informative)

Evets (629327) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380215)

Here's a direct link to the fuel cells: http://www.acumentrics.com/products-power-generato rs.htm [acumentrics.com]

Re:The Product Page (3, Funny)

samkass (174571) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380427)

"This revolutionary power system contains an array of solid-state tubes"

Remember: it's a bunch of tubes, not a big truck!

I don't see a price on that page, by the way...

Re:The Product Page (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19380555)

How much does a system cost?
List price for a 5 kW unit is $175,000. Present systems are still demonstration units and carry the cost associated with not only the system itself but some custom engineering which typically results from each customer's intended installation. Acumentrics normally provides site installation support and monitoring which is also provided in the quotation.

Re:The Product Page (5, Informative)

WED Fan (911325) | more than 6 years ago | (#19381077)

5 kW unit is $175,000

Wow, and at HomeDepot, I can get a 7kW Generator with a 12 hour run-time @ half usage, for around $550. Sure, it produces carbons, but, I'm willing to bet that if the price of gasoline doubled, I still wouldn't be able to off-lay the cost of the fuel cell in this lifetime.

The trick to getting the American public to switch to greener alternative power systems is:

  • Make it cheaper than the current system
  • Demonstrate that it screws OPEC and Oil and Power Corporations
  • Make it tax exempt for the first 10 years (thus demonstrating you are screwing the Government, as well
  • Make it the next entreup...entr...next great business to break into. In otherwords, make it so Joe Bluecollar can install the powerplant into a home, turn it into a business of taking Bob Whitecollar off the grid, thus, allowing early to market Joe Bluecollars to become the next set of millionaires.

Oh, did I mention that it should demonstrate the ability to SCREW over OPEC, Government, and Corporations?

Re:The Product Page (2, Funny)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 6 years ago | (#19381289)

Oh, did I mention that it should demonstrate the ability to SCREW over OPEC, Government, and Corporations?

Ya know, this fuel-cell thingy has an Ethernet port on it. So if someone could find a way to add a really slick, totally anonymous P2P client on the thing, and it could demonstrate the ability to also SCREW over the RIAA, MPAA, Disney, all makers of DRM, and maybe some spammers, too, we would just be ALL set, now wouldn't we?

Re:The Product Page (4, Interesting)

Retric (704075) | more than 6 years ago | (#19381307)

There is a huge difference between 12 hour run-time @ half usage and a 24/7 workhorse for remote locations that may see 1 person every 6 months. Assuming this is significantly more reliable than a system with far more moving parts you might be able to replace 2 30k generators with this and get more fuel efficiency.

So where 175k may be way over the top at 50k these could sell like hot cakes.

Re:The Product Page (4, Insightful)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 6 years ago | (#19381323)

Your assumption about the price of gasoline doubling... I think that's pretty much a given. We -know- there's a limited amount of fuel in the world. We think we know about how much. We know we use more every year than the previous year.

At some point, gasoline is going to be too expensive to use as common fuel. It maybe in 10 years, like they've predicted for the last 15 or 20 years, or it maybe in in 30 or 40... But I expect to live that long. If the price hasn't doubled again in the next 10 years, I'll be very surprised.

You said 'lifetime', and I assume you meant yours. But let's assume you meant 'lifetime of the generator', because they won't last forever. At current prices, it definitely makes sense to buy the gas generator, as it's unlikely they'll both last more than 10 or 15 years.

But the price of a brand new product is always inflated to make back R&D costs quickly, then drops for sale to the less affluent folk in the world. Better production technology helps bring the cost down, too. I seriously doubt the hardware itself actually costs $175k... At a guess, let's say it comes down to 1/100th of that, $17.5k... It won't be long until it's a lot cheaper than the gas version.

In short, comparing the price of a newly-announced product to the price of a product that's been common for years doesn't work well in the long run.

I definitely agree with the 'screw over opec/etc', though... Even if it costs more, many people will be willing to adopt it for just that purpose.

Re:The Product Page (1)

Belacgod (1103921) | more than 6 years ago | (#19381499)

And what with startup costs, the initial unit of any complex technology will never be cheaper than the established alternatives. If people had applied this reasoning to the first computers, which were hugely more expensive than typewriters, we'd never have gotten any of the subsequent ones.

Re:The Product Page (1)

itlurksbeneath (952654) | more than 6 years ago | (#19381529)

OPEC and Oil and Power Corporations
And where are you going to get that propane or LPG from? Where do you think that stuff comes from anyway? Hell, even most of the hydrogen that's made today is pulled out of natural gas and who do you think gets that stuff out of the ground?

Re:The Product Page (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19380485)

Dear PC users,

It's no secret iTunes turned to shit as soon as Apple had to start catering to PC users. It was version 4.1, if memory serves, around the time they let you cavedwellers into our music store. The demand for PC compatibility is the major reason iTunes is still a Carbon app, according to insiders, when every other iApp has since been rewritten in Cocoa to behave like a decent Mac application.

Frankly, we think Apple should revoke PC compatibility from the iPod. Only when the last PC user is forced from our platform shall we enjoy freedom, again and at last, from your tasteless, backwards demands.

Mac users

Re:The Product Page (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19380889)

While it makes sense to buy the gayest computer around to use the gayest mp3 player around it seems rather inconvenient and costly. Couldn't Apple just make one version of iTunes for full blown faggots that use all Apple hardware, and another version for people who are only bi-curious and don't have the money for a Mac and AIDS treatment?

Re:The Product Page (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19381197)

now that's a damn funny post.

It's wrong, but still funny.

The story source (5, Insightful)

trawg (308495) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380601)

... and, here's a link to the story source [treehugger.com] - at least they referenced it in the article, but essentially its a rewrite of the treehugger item submitted as blogspam.

While I'm whining, is there a template for stories about huge technological advances in energy production? Like "A startup has developed a new form of [insert name of your favourite green energy production system here]. It takes the existing process of [current way to produce power] and optimises it by [super high level technical details of magical new system], resulting in an efficiency improvement of [insert random number greater than 1 here, without citing details about how it was measured or what the costs of the new procedure are]. Read more about it on [insert link to your blog].

Re:The story source (2, Funny)

camperdave (969942) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380885)

Hey! Great!... That one sure beats the template I've been using. <copy><paste>... Thanks.

Re:The story source (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19381279)

Dear Sir,

Please cease and desist from using my intellectual property.


R. Piquepaille

I think they're missing the bigger picture: (5, Funny)

tiedyejeremy (559815) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380253)

More important than efficiency and cross platform mobility is...

a good acronym.

I can't even talk about this without a decent acronym.

Re:I think they're missing the bigger picture: (4, Funny)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380985)

I got one. How about:

"American Standard Solid-FUel Cell Kickstart System" (ASS-FUCKS)?

Let's see.. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19380273)

.. how long THIS enterprise and their innovation lasts before bigger fish smother it and make it disappear without a trace in benefit of their own economic interests.

Re:Let's see.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19380365)

This is why if you invent an energy-cheapening device, DON'T PATENT IT. A patent monopoly may seem like a good idea at the time, but once you're bankrupted, the patent will be sold off as an asset to the predators, and, since a patent, by definition, is a right to prevent people making something, they can make sure the technology doesn't happen again for ~ 20 years. Not patenting means that any tom, dick or harry can make the device. Yes, you *might* get less profits (or a proportionally smaller but absolutely larger slice of a bigger pie...), but you're no longer the sole target they need to take out.

Re:Let's see.. (5, Interesting)

phoenix321 (734987) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380573)

... until Tom, Dick and Harry start patenting YOUR invention afterwards. And then battling it out in the courts with the deepest pocket winning and then preventing anyone from using that technology.

No, the only possible course is this:

Found company "Example A limited" on the cheap, stock capital 1$. You are of course owner and CEO of that company, filing your patent with the USPTO. The sole purpose of this company is licensing this single patent, the only employee is you and its only asset is your invention.

Then found company "Example B limited". Same procedure, you are owner and CEO. The purpose of this company is producing useful merchandise from your invention, which is of course only licensed (for 1$/year) from company A.

If you have 300$ to burn, you could even create a small holding structure, with "Example holding limited" as the "root" node becoming the owner of company A and B, further protecting you against liability and lawsuit risks, which always arise when dealing with start-ups in fierce competition and a 2 ton gorilla in the market.

Whatever happens to company B doesn't affect A in any way under most circumstances (except for malice and severe negligence, I think). And as company A doesn't do anything other than holding a patent and licensing it to anyone who wants, it won't go down easily.

If the worst case happens and B goes bust, you could still license your patent through A on your terms, for 1$/year for everyone except BigOil Inc., who would have to pony up, say, half a billion per month. Your patent, your terms.

Sticking it to The Man for fun and profit. Behave responsibly :)

mod parent up (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19380623)

I wish I still had my mod points...

Re:Let's see.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19381159)

In company A, in the incorporation papers, specify that all patents held cannot be sold, and will be released into the public domain in the event that the corporation dissolves (you die and no one else takes over).

Re:Let's see.. (2, Interesting)

phoenix321 (734987) | more than 6 years ago | (#19381327)


if you are (even temporarily) successful, file (some) eerily similar patents and found a NEW tiny company for everyone of them. Then shift your manufacturing/moneymaking business along to using the "new" patents. Every "new" patent is a layer of armor around your initial invention and a large "I am an industrious and successful inventor"-sign above your head, attracting and safeguarding investors and partners.

(Which of course must only invest in company B, not in your patent "holding cells" and never in company A!)

If you make new or really improved inventions, use the same template: one company for one patent and let the competition wear themselves out when they try to strike them down one by one. Make a nice and thick network of companies belonging to each other without anyone other than you knowing who owns what, keeping your legal enemies in the dark about where and whom to attack, forcing them to file hundreds of requests to patent offices and company registrars.

(This model is simplified and idealized, but it's a lot better than nothing. And orders of magnitude better than just starting your company with full liability with patents and manufacturing processes together.)

Re:Let's see.. (2, Insightful)

ronadams (987516) | more than 6 years ago | (#19381461)

Save yourself SEC filings and more red tape fun by founding both as an S-Corporation. No stock, no Board of Directors, no public holdings.

Re:Let's see.. (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380673)

No. Patent it and licence it non-exclusively for a fixed fair amount per unit for the lifetime of the patent.

If you're bankrupted, the licencees will retain their rights, the asset still has value so your creditors will get some of their investment back, and you have a fair stab at making money. Meanwhile, other companies invest in improving and cheapening your device.

Re:Let's see.. (1)

ajs318 (655362) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380893)

What about patenting it, but then dedicating the patent to the Public Domain? Then there is definitely published prior art, so nobody should be able to patent the same thing again. Anybody building one need only label it with the patent number you were originally allocated.

Re:Let's see.. (1)

AndersOSU (873247) | more than 6 years ago | (#19381603)

Dedicating the patent to the public domain has no effect on the state of the art. The patent application is art regardless of whether the patent is granted, granted and donated to the public domain, or denied.

If the patent is broad enough to stop others from making it, but narrow enough to be granted not only will prior art will stop anyone else from patenting the same thing again, but you get paid.

If you want to be altruistic, no point in paying for a patent. Just publish the technical specifications for free (or cheep) on a website - but hey if you've solved the energy problem I'm sure Nature or Science will pick up your article - but then again getting a journal to accept your story is more work. That will stop future (similar) patents just as well as an expensive patent.

Re:Let's see.. (1)

Elfich47 (703900) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380649)

There are actually several fuel cell competitors out there right now. MTI [mtimicrofuelcells.com] comes to mind.

Any kind of fuel?? (3, Insightful)

brunes69 (86786) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380287)

What does that mean? Is this a Mr. Fusion type device I can run off of apple peels?

Oh wait...

"Acumentrics' 5000 Power System operates directly from natural gas, propane, biofuels, LPG or hydrogen. "

Looks like once again the Slashdot summary is overblown and misleading.

Anyway - sounds like a promising technology. I'll keep tabs on it.

Re:Any kind of fuel?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19380639)

Look what I have here, look in my right hand, I have two pieces of apple peel. You can all see that I have two pieces of apple peel, right? That is, one large, one slighly smaller one. Now focus on the two pieces of apple peel as I close my hand..
Aaaand...... Presto!


Re:Any kind of fuel?? (2, Interesting)

Elfich47 (703900) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380687)

Well if you had a large enough septic tank you could used the methane that is generated in the septic tank to power your Fuel Cell. Usually this is done on farms with a couple hundred cattle where there is enough poop to go around.

Re:Any kind of fuel?? (1)

CheeseTroll (696413) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380851)

From Acumentrics's website, "The fuel cells run on natural gas, propane, ethanol, diesel, biogas, and biodiesel --because they can disassociate fuels in the tube, via in-situ reformation."

Re:Any kind of fuel?? (3, Insightful)

Kythe (4779) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380953)

Looks like once again the Slashdot summary is overblown and misleading.

Not really -- it's a matter of semantics. The summary is using "fuel" not to mean "anything", but rather, "fuel" as we think of it currently in common parlance. And as the summary immediately follows with examples, I think it's pretty clear what's being talked about.

I'm all for criticism where it's warranted, but in this case, I think the summary is actually rather good.

Re:Any kind of fuel?? (4, Funny)

Oktober Sunset (838224) | more than 6 years ago | (#19381187)

My fuel of preference is coal. can I use that?

Re:Any kind of fuel?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19381287)

No. This thing won't run on it, ergo coal is not a 'fuel.'

Or, to use the classic geek brush-off, "why would you want to do that?"

Re:Any kind of fuel?? (4, Informative)

mprinkey (1434) | more than 6 years ago | (#19381629)

Actually, it can, but you need to gasify the coal first to create syngas (steam + coal --> CO + H2). Both CO and H2 can be oxidized in a solid-oxide fuel cell. There is a lot of research being done in these areas by the USDOE. I've worked on both SOFC (wrote a CFD model for SOFCs) and gasification (writing a CFD model model for fluidized bed gasification reactors). The "Next-Gen" power plant designs basically take in coal, gasify it, run it through a fuel cell, burn the effluent gas, run it through a turbine topping cycle, and finally separate out the CO2 and sequester it. The overall system efficiencies are quite good and can produce industrial CO2. There is more information here:

http://www.fossil.energy.gov/programs/powersystems /vision21/ [energy.gov]

Not perfect ... (3, Insightful)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380329)

... but important nonetheless. It will certainly be cheaper than newer "hydrogen only" technologies coming out and will allow small areas (from rural US to many locations in developing countries) to produce energy for 1/2 the fuel and CO2 emissions. Improvements in efficiency are a step in the right direction. Not everyone (or everywhere) will be making the big energy leaps at the same time or the same pace.

Re:Not perfect ... (4, Interesting)

samkass (174571) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380399)

If technologies like this and cheap solar become commonplace, the model of the electrical grid that distributes power from one huge generator to a million consumers can be revised. I think that's good not only for carbon emissions, but for the losses due to transmission, the ugly high-tension wires crisscrossing the country, and the likelihood of outages. If we have a hundred thousand tiny generators on the grid, it seems like everyone wins except the power companies.

Re:Not perfect ... (4, Interesting)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380567)

I still wonder about the costs of transporting the fuel. If you have to transport a couple hundred litres of fuel (I'm not sure on the amount) to each house every month, then is that more or less efficient than delivering truckloads of fuel to a single power plant. Obviously, it's easier to just truck it all to one place, but does it offset the efficiency lost from line transmission. Obviously it would still be a lot less connected and prone to failure, and there would be no high tension lines. However, I think that people may end up paying less if they had a choice (gas, coal, oil, hydrogen, biodeisel) as to who they bought their fuel supply from every month.

Re:Not perfect ... (3, Interesting)

Angostura (703910) | more than 6 years ago | (#19381073)

Certainly in the UK, most houses have residential natural gas supplies for cooking and heating. I've been waiting for several years for a small residential combined heat-and-power boiler to become available so I could heat the house and generate electricity as a by-product. However all the companies I have investigated have been stuck at the 'we will be producing prototypes for you to install next month' stage for the last two years :-(

Re:Not perfect ... (1)

AndersOSU (873247) | more than 6 years ago | (#19381813)

Good luck with that.

The reason natural gas power plants have been falling out of favor is the extreme volatility in price of natural gas. Things might be different on that side of the pond, what with you guys being so close to the North Sea and Norway, but that volatility means you'd be paying less in the summer (when you don't need the heat) and paying a small fortune in the winter.

Couple that with the nearly inevitable fact that a home unit will be less efficient than a power plant, and I'd be willing to bet that the laws of thermo and economics guarantee that you will be paying more for natural gas than you now pay for gas and electric. Not only that but you'd be hurting the environment to boot - power plants are more able to scrub the pollutants from the combustion product than you would be able to - and the carbon emissions per kW/hr would be higher (due to the aforementioned efficiency problems).

But when I say good luck I mean it. It isn't impossible to make something like that work, just very very difficult.

Re:Not perfect ... (1)

CmdrGravy (645153) | more than 6 years ago | (#19381733)

If this sort of thing really were to take off then the chances are the fuel would be piped into peoples houses. The UK uses natural gas in most homes for cooking and heating and this is piped around rather than being shipped by truck.

I, obviously, haven't bothered reading the article, or the summary much so I don't know if this thing can work off natural gas. If not I don't know how much harder it is to pipe diesal into peoples homes or whatever but I'm sure the payoff would beat mass truckage in the long term.

Re:Not perfect ... (3, Interesting)

DrWho520 (655973) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380643)

These are going to cost a pretty penny for a while, but I would be willing to invest if the cost of ownership and lifetime were reasonable. They are solid state, so they should last a while. Looking at the spec sheet, there is a sulfur filter that needs to be changed every 9000 hours. How much do those cost? Also, you need a quote to get warranty information. I wonder how much service costs? Can I learn to do it myself? A second life as a fuel cell technician would definitely be a refreshing change from a software engineer. Oh, and the operating range is 0-5000ft.

The spec sheet: http://www.acumentrics.com/243ebdc5-db1f-410d-9914 -cff857f5223f/Link.pdf [acumentrics.com]
The home version: http://www.acumentrics.com/6d853cb3-92b2-46f3-b7f5 -920bb4d238a3/Link.pdf [acumentrics.com]

Re:Not perfect ... (1)

Elfich47 (703900) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380721)

So I need to change the sulfur filter once a year. Its not like anything else a house doesn't need maintenance.

Re:Not perfect ... (1)

Ngarrang (1023425) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380783)

Something like this could especially help California and their rolling black-outs. If the home-unit prices are made affordable and produce enough power, people could power their AC units during the day without using the grid. Maybe. I only have experience with small window ACs.

plug in hybrids (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19381369)

They actually want to do that there once plug in hybrid cars become commonplace. A million "peak power demand" generators available would go a long way to help make rolling blackouts a thing of the past without having to resort to building new expensive large power plants.

The silver bullet for alternative energy is already here, it is the *combination* of all the tech you can get now, solar, wind, etc.

Re:Not perfect ... (1)

jonathan DS (1110515) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380403)

I think this development can help a whole lot of people across the world. The system is quite small and can provide enough energy to supply a reasonable amount of people with power.

It's possibility to interact with alternative energy sources like sun and wind, can even deliver a long term solution without continuous provisioning of fuel.

So: Keep it up Acumentrics!

Re:Not perfect ... behavior under partial load? (4, Interesting)

elwinc (663074) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380865)

One of the big issues with off-grid power is how does the power generator behave under partial load; i.e. does efficiency get lousy when you only need 25% or 50% of rated output? For example, one poster points out that in a co-generation system, diesel can hit 90%. This is at higher loads where the diesel is most efficient. I'm wondering because you have to devote some energy to keeping the 'solid oxide' (AKA catalyst?) hot.

By the way, from Acumentrics FAQ:

How is Acumentrics technology different from its competitors?
Tolerant of repeated thermal cycling (over 100 v. fewer than 15 for others)
That means you can shut it down about 100 times. Any more shutdowns and you may start to damage your unit. So if your nighttime load is near zero, sorry unlike a diesel, no cutover to batteries. You gotta keep the generator hot. This is gonna adversely affect the efficiency of home use.

Your traditional generator is designed to be cheap (4, Interesting)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380357)

This thing costs $175,000. How much does a 5kW Diesel cost? Even with a 45% electrical efficiency it's going to take rather a long time to pay for itself. For cogeneration a Diesel is just as useful and yup, can also hit the 90% efficiency range.


Re:Your traditional generator is designed to be ch (2, Interesting)

delt0r (999393) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380539)

For cogeneration a Diesel is just as useful and yup, can also hit the 90% efficiency range.
That is not a fair comparasion. You mite want to check those numbers too. About 70% is the best there is normaly for cogens. You can fudge things a bit since you are using *heat* energy and electricity (5Kw of heat is not the same as 5Kw of electricity). But conversion to just electricty is never much better than about 50% which is the figure of merit that is talked about here.

Re:Your traditional generator is designed to be ch (1)

Elfich47 (703900) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380711)

You should also include that when you are going Diesel cogen (or coal) and trying to get efficiencies over 50% you are producing power in the MW not the kW. Needless to say, you aren't going to be fitting that in your basement anytime soon.

Re:Your traditional generator is designed to be ch (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 6 years ago | (#19381115)

This fuel cell device is only hitting 45-50% as well. It only hits the 90% figure by reclaiming the exhaust heat. [Details in the fancy article.]

5kw Back up plan (4, Informative)

Martix (722774) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380805)

5k diesel is $1500 around here.

I am planing a hybrid system for the house when we get one.
will consist of Outback inverters, batteries, little solar wind/panels and last but not least is a generator.

The idea is during a short power outage run off batteries - if it is a long one the generator will start up and
charge the batteries. the solar and wind will be added in stages starting with the pannels

Using CFL's for lighting and auto transfer of vital circuts to the back up system. ie Beer fridge

The idea is that the generator will run at 80-90% load instead of wide fluctuations of 10-90 % the difference is is 2 - 4 hours of run time to a tank so i will use less fuel during a longer outage.

Also being conservative on power consumtion during that time i can even extend my fuel supply

Can also get exaust to water exchanger and use it to help heat the house in winter if needed.

The big advantage is that i can handle larger surge loads then just useing a generator which would have to be 2 to 3 time as large for start up of motors and short peak loads. Ie well pump and sump pump were rural.

Will cost more then just the generator but is way less the $175,000

Re:5kw Back up plan (1)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | more than 6 years ago | (#19381081)

Also you can buy a second battery for your car (excluding Prius of course) and swap at home after your daily commute, run your house lights off 12V. Save a few kilowatts off the mains.

Re:5kw Back up plan (1)

Martix (722774) | more than 6 years ago | (#19381141)

That would kill a starting battery in a few days there not made for that. Heavy traction or solar batteries are. Plus make the battery bank large so you only dischage shallow and extend the life.

Use as backup generator? (3, Insightful)

James McP (3700) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380359)

I wonder what the startup time is on the cells. The lack of moving parts and high efficiency sounds like it would be ideal for a backup generator since you could get twice the duration for the same fuel tank. The big question is how long it will take to reach nominal load. If you need an excessive amount of batteries to make the transition it could still be unfeasible.

One would think that you could get racks of the things to get generation capacity in excess of 5KW since the units already consist of multiple tubes. It would simply mean removing the individual DC/AC converters and using one big one.

Anyone have any idea what the maintenance cycles are on fuel cells and how long you can let one sit idle?

Re:Use as backup generator? (2, Informative)

jonathan DS (1110515) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380451)

The common used UPS systems are provided with batteries that last for about 4 years.

These days the batteries are also measured while nog being used. When their are nearly discharged, they are charged automatically. This happens in a way so the life expectancy will be maximized.

Of course there's still Murphy's law, and batteries can fail a whole lot earlier!

Re:Use as backup generator? (2, Insightful)

Critical Facilities (850111) | more than 6 years ago | (#19381217)

Not true. Most wet cell batteries used in commercial UPS Systems' battery strings claim a life of 15-20 years with a realistic life of 8-10 years (slightly less for valve regulated batteries, though they're less common). Also, while it's true that the batteries are "measured"/monitored while not being "used" (e.g. voltage, temperature, specific gravity, internal resistance, etc), they are not fully discharged and then charged automatically.

The only time your batteries should be being discharged at all is when you're experiencing an emergency and are transferring to generator, when you are experiencing a brief undervoltage from your utility provider, or when you are performing a load test of your UPS system. Other than that, there should be no discharging of your batteries going on at all. If there is, you have a problem and are radically shortening the life of your batteries.

Re:Use as backup generator? (2, Informative)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 6 years ago | (#19381783)

The lack of moving parts and high efficiency sounds like it would be ideal for a backup generator since you could get twice the duration for the same fuel tank.

except from the website it can only be started up 100 times before damage occurs. That is a major show stopper right there.

Check their "Test Stand" (2, Interesting)

visualight (468005) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380363)

http://www.acumentrics.com/products-fuel-cell-test -stand.htm [acumentrics.com]

That looks interesting. I couldn't find a price though. According to their FAQ a 5kw unit costs 175,000 dollars, I think the test unit should be less though since it has fewer tubes.

It's small enough that you could put it in the corner of your garage.

The website describes it as a tool for learning about fuel cells etc., but I think that would be limited by virtue of the tubes being manufactured (and sealed I assume). But it would be useful for "complete system" prototyping and experimentation.

Re:Check their "Test Stand" (1)

LynnwoodRooster (966895) | more than 6 years ago | (#19381815)

I think the test unit should be less though since it has fewer tubes.

RTFA! It's a GENERATOR, not the Internet... Tubes don't play any role here...

A much better idea (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380383)

Hydrogen fuel cells are never going to become common until the infrastructure is in place, and the infrastructure isn't going to be in place until hydrogen fuel cell cars are common.

That and hydrogen fuel is a huge environemental con anyway. We get hydrogen from fossil fuels. Not water. It's cheaper and using nuclear or renewable electricity to separate the hydrogen from water would be false carbon economy. You might as well use that electricity to replace a coal or oil power station. Our best bet is to get as much energy as possible from the fuel.

Half as carbon intensive as grid power? (5, Insightful)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380387)

Err , not if the grid power in your area/country comes from hydro, nuclear or renewables.

Re:Half as carbon intensive as grid power? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19380667)

Exactly. Combustion is combustion is combustion. Fuel cells are no different than internal combustion engines when it comes to producing CO2 from fuels. (neither do the fuels themselves differ in moles of CO2 per unit energy). Combustion in fuel cells is likely more complete, so in fact more CO2 would be produced.

Why do I even bother looking anymore? People are such fools.

Re:Half as carbon intensive as grid power? (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | more than 6 years ago | (#19381549)

Their comparison on efficiency is to a small generator, so it seems likely to me that comparison to grid efficiency is less favorable even for fossil fuels, particularly if a combined cycle plant is being used. It is not that fuel cell efficiencies are scale dependent the way that ICEs/turbines are but that, when using fuels other than hydrogen, you don't really get to use the energy content of the carbon because carbon fuel cells are a big order: http://www.netl.doe.gov/publications/proceedings/0 3/dcfcw/dcfcw03.html#Conversion [doe.gov].
Carbon free power: http://mdsolar.blogspot.com/2007/01/slashdot-users -selling-solar.html [blogspot.com]

Wow! what product volume! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19380421)

So, this says alot: "We have shipped over 30 fuel cell power generators to the field."

you insen51tive clod! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19380449)

to make 5ure the lube is wipe*d off

Factless hype. (5, Insightful)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380463)

"Less than half as carbon intensive as grid-power".
Unless you get your power from hydro-electric or nuclear.
Less than half as carbon intensive as coal, oil fired, or natural-gas? Or is taking the US grid as a whole?
Please try and give more than hype.
This may be great power system but I would like a little more in the way of facts in the summary.

Re:Factless hype. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19380531)

To be fair, the share of the world's power generated by coal, oil and natural gas is vastly larger than the small fraction that is hydroelectric, wind or nuclear, AFAIK.

Re:Factless hype. (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380719)

Of the world's maybe. Of the US's maybe. Of Canada, Japan, New Zealand, France, and Iceland not likely.
Even then the carbon load from natural gas is much lower than from Coal. Again hype without facts.

Re:Factless hype. (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19380541)

I would like a little more in the way of facts in the summary.

You must be new around here.

To clear up a few questions (4, Informative)

tygerstripes (832644) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380491)

Wiki [wikipedia.org] it, for pity's sake. (Okay, hardly scientific research, but...)

For what it's worth:

  • Research & engineering has reduced startup time from 8 hours to more like a few minutes
  • There are several automotive companies (Delphi, BMW, Rolls-Royce) looking into the use of SOFCs
  • Hydrogen fuel-cells are a false economy on their own - they are for energy STORAGE, not generation. SOFCs however are very, very efficient generators, and portable to boot. They're just also incredibly expensive ATM.
Okay, that last one wasn't from wikipedia, but it needed saying.

Re:To clear up a few questions (1)

Tintivilus (88810) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380773)

Rolls Royce the automotive company is a subsidiary of BMW. Do you mean Rolls Royce the aerospace company, or are you double-counting BMW?

Re:To clear up a few questions (2, Interesting)

mwvdlee (775178) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380799)

And how about the environmental cost of producing them?

That's where the hybrid-car equation breaks down; producing the fuel cells for those cars is so environmentally unfriendly that it takes many years to break even. By the time the current generation hybrid-cars is about to break even, most likely it'll be more environmentally friendly to buy a new car with the latest technology at that point in time.

A little clarification (2, Informative)

raygundan (16760) | more than 6 years ago | (#19381763)

There aren't any hybrid vehicles on the market using a fuel cell. If you were referring to the extra energy required to produce the batteries and electric motors required in current-generation hybrid cars, there is indeed a penalty compared to normal cars. The payback time is short, however, generally just a few months. After the payback period, the car saves energy over a comparable car for the rest of its lifetime. And while the batteries are full of not-so-healthy stuff you wouldn't want to drink, they are recycled in their entirety at the end of their useful lives.

As to whether you should wait for the next generation or not... that's always a tough call. At some point, you just have to stop and buy a car. Otherwise, you'll *always* be waiting for the Next Great Thing. It's a lot like buying a computer. You could make the argument that you should wait, since you know that things will be much, much faster at the same price in two years-- but in two years, the same thing will still be true.

Even more interesting..... (3, Insightful)

antisoshal (639054) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380505)

If you dig around they are marketing a home system that doubles as a furnace for home heating. Heat is generated using natural gas or propane, and electricity is generated simultaneously that could be used to power a forced air system. Unfortunately like everything else of this nature that seems revolutionary, the home unit is "not currently for sale and available only for testing by suitable partners", and the few products actually for sale are priced so far out of reach as to be functionally useless. I can get a decent 5KW generator for under 1000$ easily, and a good permanent installation could be had for well under 2000$, so this product more or less falls in the same category as the 800,000$ electric car: If you can afford it, you don't need it and could do more for the environment by using that money elsewhere. It seems there is a whole industry based on technology that never comes to fruition. Anyone else remember the computer company in Utah making ASIC based computers that compiled each time they ran to a benefit of 10x the running speed? whatever happened to them?.... Now, if someone like GE or Kohler were to license this tech, it could be produced a magnitude of order cheaper. But then a major player runs the risk of re-tooling at a substantial cost to begin production, only to have their investment dashed by next years innovation which will be even more efficient. There really aren't that many conspiracies out there. We have painted ourselves into an economic hole with the business models we use for capitol investment. Intel could be making chips three times as fast, but until they pay off the 2 billion dollar factory they just finished building for last years chip innovation, it just isn't happening. The conspiracy is just supply and demand economics....

How do they clean the fuel cell elements? (2, Interesting)

ishmalius (153450) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380529)

The first thought I had when they mentioned biodiesel, is that it is very dirty. One of the benefits of a piston engine is that it is constantly scrubbing itself clean of all the residue of the combustion. Won't the fuel cell elements get coated with a layer of gunk in only a few hours without some process (mechanical?) that periodically cleans them?

Re:How do they clean the fuel cell elements? (2, Informative)

Cyberax (705495) | more than 6 years ago | (#19381227)

+800C tends to burn away any soot :)

I've worked once as a consultant in a factory with several blast furnaces - the furnaces themselves never needed cleaning.

Re:How do they clean the fuel cell elements? (2, Informative)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 6 years ago | (#19381349)

+800C tends to burn away any soot :)

Yep. That's also how they keep diesel particulate filters working. Every couple of hundred miles, raise the exhaust temperature for a few minutes, and you're good again.

Total cost of ownership over time, otherwise B.S. (3, Insightful)

smchris (464899) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380779)

Twice the efficiency _is_ technologically interesting. But a generator lasts, what, 10-20-30 years? These cells are what? One use recycled? So how many dozens, hundreds, or whatever fuel cells need to be built to get that "doubled efficiency" of building one generator? And what's the closed system total cost of each system over time?

I notice the article is suspiciously devoid of "$" signs.

Re:Total cost of ownership over time, otherwise B. (1)

Martix (722774) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380919)

Run time between tear down of the stack for cleaning.
PEM cells are able to run for about 1500 -2000 hours before
that then need to be worked on and at what cost......?

More Carbon-Intensive Than Grid Power (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19380887)

Acumentrics clames that their PEAK efficiency is upto 50%. This may be twice as good as other 5Kw generators, but it is less than the 60% efficency of modern combined cycle power plants and in the range of some coal fired plants.

Not twice as efficient as generators ... can't be (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19380939)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Combined_cycle [wikipedia.org]

The thermal efficiency of a combined cycle power plant is the net power output of the plant divided by the heating value of the fuel. If the plant produces only electricity, efficiencies of up to 59% can be achieved. In the case of combined heat and power generation, the efficiency can increase to 85%.

Given the figures cited above, it is impossible for fuel cells to be twice as efficient as modern power stations. That would mean they could get 118% efficiency.

The other issue is global warming and greenhouse gases. At a large power plant, it is feasible to sequester carbon dioxide. That wouldn't work with a zillion small fuel cells scattered around the country. These fuel cells aren't an environmental panacea and may not even be that good for the environment unless their only fuel is hydrogen.

Somewhat offtopic but (0)

cinnander (964876) | more than 6 years ago | (#19380993)

Nuclear power IS carbon intensive.

Consider how much concrete needs to be made during the commissioning of a nuclear power station.
From this page [worldchanging.com]:

Concrete is responsible for 7-10% of CO2 emissions worldwide, making it the biggest climate change culprit outside of transportation and electricity-generation.

Re:Somewhat offtopic but (4, Insightful)

WaZiX (766733) | more than 6 years ago | (#19381241)

What a dumb point against Nuclear energy.

1) How much of the concrete production comes from building Nuclear powerplants?

2) Electricity Generation is a bigger culprit, so going nuclear (I've been watching Heroes too much) would go in the right direction...

3) Transportation is also a (much) bigger culprit, and electricity will probably end up playing a large role in alternatives to fossilized carbon.

So, the first point isn't really a point, and nuclear energy could save much on the 2 biggest culprits...

Anything else?

The skeptic speaks (1)

Danathar (267989) | more than 6 years ago | (#19381225)

This is all find and good. Yea..new technology!

I'll believe it's viability when I see people buying it.

Maybe I'm jaded..but why is it that every new cool tech that's announced is always at least 10 years away from deployment. Plus I never hear about that revolutionary tech that was announced 10 years ago...where is it?

They have the wrong business model (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19381331)

They need to get Halliburton to invest heavily in them. Then they will get massive federal support and Tax cuts. After that, the feds will pay you to use this, as opposed to having somebody pay 175K.

The devil is in the details. IOW, fuggetaboutit (5, Insightful)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | more than 6 years ago | (#19381745)

There are a lot of caveats in any use of fuel cells: * A lot of fuel cells work just fine in the lab. Where you have several PhD's carefully tweaking up the chemical inputs over a period of hours or days. Where they hourly titrate the input chemicals to ensure they're at 99.99% purity. Where the cell is maintained with 843 degrees C on the cathode side, -177C on the anode side, maintained plus or minus 0.05 degree C thanks to the half-dozen HP $4,000 quartz resonator thermometers. Where the load is constant non-inductive fixed-value pure resistor. Where it sits on a marble lab bench with no vibration. Where it doesnt matter if a layer of micro bubbles of liquid plutonium forms on the cathode, as your PHD with the least senority can be mandated to start through a stereo microscope and scrape that gunk off with a nano-curette. Then consider the operating environment for your typical car engine. Compare and Contrast. Hand in by the end of the hour. Points for neatness.
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