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How Bloom Energy's mini, green power plant worksa€”and why its press conference today had some experts seeing red, or just plain underwhelmed. How Bloom Energy's mini, green power plant worksa€”and why its press conference today had some experts seeing red, or just plain underwhelmed. After days of speculation and hype, the fuel cell company unveiled their plans for Bloom Box mass productiona€”but no prototypea€”at a press conference today with California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former U.S. But fuel cell experts say that, based on the information the company made public today, the Bloom Box technology is not revolutionary, nor is it the cheapest or most efficient fuel cell system available. Mike Brown, a vice president at fuel cell maker UTC Powera€”a competitor to Bloom Energya€”also wasn't surprised. In an interview with CBS TV's 60 Minutes Sunday nighta€”which did much to fuel anticipation for today's announcementa€”K.R. Fuel cells are devices that combine a fuel, such as natural gas, and an oxidant, such as oxygen, and turn their chemical energy directly into electrical energy. For months now, Bloom Energy has been testing refrigerator-size Bloom Boxes at campuses of major corporationsa€”including Google, FedEx, Wal-Mart, and eBay. One of these jumbo Bloom Boxes, called Bloom Box Servers, could power a hundred homes, and four of them could power a 35,000-square-foot (3,250-square-meter) office building, Sridhar said on CBS. Sridhar, a former NASA engineer, said he hopes to begin selling the mini-fridge-size Bloom Boxes within five to ten years. At the heart of the Bloom Box will be solid oxide fuel cellsa€”in this case, flat, coaster-size ceramic plates with a secret coatinga€”widely considered by experts to be one of the most efficient types of fuel cells. Oxygen and natural gas would be fed into the Bloom Box and undergo a high-temperature chemical reaction in the fuel cells to produce electricity, heat, carbon dioxide, and water.

The fuel could be piped in from municipal natural gas systemsa€”much as it is for gas stoves and ovensa€”or created from biogas or, as in the case of eBay, harvested from natural gas-rich landfills. Based on the 60 Minutes segment, Prinz said, the design of the Bloom Box appears to be fairly standard and that there was nothing obviously revolutionary about it.
At that rate, the Bloom Boxes should pay for themselves within three years, Donahoe told the business-news site Fast Company.
Those high prices are due in part to the fact that home fuel cell systems have been built by hand and because low demand hasn't allowed manufacturers to achieve economies of scalea€”for example to negotiate cheaper prices for raw materials in the way that large production runs allowa€”said Brown of UTC Power.
Previous systems have also used the precious metal platinum, though Bloom Energy says they've found a way around thisa€”though the details are under wrapsa€”according to Prinz, of Stanford University.
For the Bloom Box to become widely adopted by homeownersa€”who would presumably be nervous about replacing old reliable technology with a new, relatively untested onea€”the system will need an operational lifetime of about 85,000 hours, or about ten years, Brown said. There are commercial fuel cells, such as ones made by UTC Power, that can operate continuously for that long, Brown said.
Bloom Energy has not released specific details about the Bloom Box's energy efficiency or specified whether the heat produced by its units can be utilized. That would make the Bloom Box only about 5 to 10 percent more efficient than conventional combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) power plants, Brown said.
Whitney Colella, a fuel cell researcher at Sandia National Laboratories, said the Bloom Box appears to be very similar to fuel cell systems developed by United Technologies Corp. While most experts seem to agree that the current Bloom Box appears to be a fairly standard solid oxide fuel cell system, Bloom Energy has filed patents in recent years that hint at a possible killer feature that could set its future devices apart from the competition, Greentech Media's Kanellos said. This would essentially reverse the chemical reaction in the Bloom Boxa€”a possibility Sridhar hinted at on 60 Minutes.

That new fuel and oxidant could be automatically run through the Bloom Box to generate even more electricitya€”and less waste. THIS HIGH QUALITY STICKERS ARE PRINTED OVER WHITE BACKING.THEY COME PRE-CUT • READY TO APPLY • VIBRANT COLORSGREAT FOR YOUR BIKE, CAR, TOOL BOX, HELMET OR ANY CLEANSMOOTH SURFACE. Sridhar at a Bloom Energy press conference today, a single Bloom Box fuel cell is said to be able to power a light bulb. I'm actually pretty pissed off about it, to be quite honest," said Nigel Sammes, a ceramic engineer and fuel cell expert at the Colorado School of Mines. Sridhar, CEO of Bloom Energy, said that, for one thing, the Bloom Box fuel cell system is a much better, or at least more reliable, alternative to solar power as a green energy source. Solid oxide fuel cells must operate at extremely high temperatures, and as a result, they often crack or leak. Fuel cell systems in which both the generated electricity and heat are used can be 90 percent or more energy efficient. Such plants create electricity in two phases: first via gas turbines, then via steam turbines, which take advantage of excess heat generated in the first phase. Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews are formulated specifically for health-conscious athletes seeking a great-tasting energy snack.

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