The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough?

nvysealnvyseal Solar Expert Posts: 108 ✭✭✭✭
Bloom Energy has actually been operating for 8 years, raising $400 million in funding from VCs including Kleiner Perkins (investors in Netscape, Amazon, Google and others). Its “Bloom Box” houses fuel cells that run on oxygen plus natural gas, landfill gas, bio-gas or even solar.

The company’s first customer was Google, which has been powering a datacenter on 4 Bloom Boxes for 18 months. Google’s boxes run on natural gas. eBay is also a customer — the company has 5 Bloom Boxes in San Jose, which it says have saved $100,000 in energy costs over 9 months.

Watch these videos. What are your thoughts. $3000.00 for install in a residential? I'll go for that!

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/02/18/60minutes/main6221135.shtml
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Comments

  • TnAndyTnAndy Solar Expert Posts: 249 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Re: The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough?

    Yeah....I saw the 60minute piece on it.....seemed long on fluff, and really short on details.

    As I understand a fuel cell, you combine a fuel with oxygen and get electricity....how does solar feed a fuel cell ?

    A fuel cell also puts out DC electricity which must be inverted to AC for the typical household. The typical 900kw/hr/month house in the US is going to need a 5-8kw inverter ( and that may be on the low end when it comes to peak loads ). That alone will cost more than $3,000.

    Google may have saved $100k, but is that WITH or WITHOUT the 40-50% tax credits ?

    I have more questions than they had answers, for sure.
  • audredgeraudredger Solar Expert Posts: 272 ✭✭
    Re: The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough?

    $3,000 for a fuel cell that will power a house is cheap! I too will take one. Solar power would be via a hydrolyze. Crack water into hydrogen. The storage of hydrogen is where the expense is!
  • nvysealnvyseal Solar Expert Posts: 108 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough?
    TnAndy wrote: »
    Yeah....I saw the 60minute piece on it.....seemed long on fluff, and really short on details.

    As I understand a fuel cell, you combine a fuel with oxygen and get electricity....how does solar feed a fuel cell ?

    A fuel cell also puts out DC electricity which must be inverted to AC for the typical household. The typical 900kw/hr/month house in the US is going to need a 5-8kw inverter ( and that may be on the low end when it comes to peak loads ). That alone will cost more than $3,000.

    Google may have saved $100k, but is that WITH or WITHOUT the 40-50% tax credits ?

    I have more questions than they had answers, for sure.

    I'm really surprised this got moved into the "Skeptics, Hype, & Scams Corner". We could have waited until Wednesday to hear what this company had to say.

    As for your questions, Cnet has a great breakdown on what they know so far. I seriously doubt Google, ebay, Walmart, Staples and Fedex consider this a scam or hype, and ebay is running their boxes on landfill waste-based bio-gas and it generates, when averaged out over seven days, five times as much power than they can use. Ever wonder why Google applied for and received permission to be a power marketer?

    Anyways, the Cnet Q&A article is located here: http://news.cnet.com/8301-13924_3-10457646-64.html

    Try and keep an open mind guys, technology only gets better. I just think of poor niel and how he could have really used this a few weeks ago. :p
  • GreenerPowerGreenerPower Solar Expert Posts: 264 ✭✭✭✭✭✭
    Re: The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough?

    An implementation of hydro-carbon fuel cell basically. The secret is in the process and material making its "ion-exchange" membrane. It basically allows hydrocarbon to "burn" more completely and generate electricity directly. Wonder what's their efficiency, they usually run in the ~90% or higher. The process and material making these "ion-exchange" are still very expensive - porous material (thinking micron-size holes) plated with expensive catalyst such as platinum. Still a long way to go to get to affordable $/Watt .

    On a side note, hydrocarbon (natural gas, landfill gas ...) is burned more efficiently but still generate CO2. The foot print is much smaller but still does have CO2 footprint. A gasoline or natural/propane generator burns hydrocarcon and converts it to electricity at low 20% or less in efficiency. Coal or gas power plants typically are at ~80% conversion efficiency. So, hydrocarbon fuel cell is ~5x more efficiency and a factor of 5 less in carbon footprint compared to normal home generators but not "really a leap" against today's more efficient coal/gas power plant.
    GP
    correction: electricity conversion of coal/gas power plant is ~50%, 80% is including heat cogeneration. With ~80% total efficiency of the "bloom box" (my guess ~90% fuelcell and 90% DC-AC conversion, much improvement but still hardly a leap from 50% in cost/efficiency and CO2 footprint.
  • russruss Solar Expert Posts: 593 ✭✭
    Re: The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough?

    Don't be misled by company names. As soon as Google or Wal Mart learns the green types think something is OK they will sign on just for the brownie points.

    Google is going down many foolish paths today.
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 29,992 admin
    Re: The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough?

    One typical issue with fuel cells is they are generally power limited... You put in a small/expensive cell that can output say 300 watts 24x7:
    • 300 watts * 24 hours per day = 7,200 WH = 7.2 kWhrs per day
    • 300 watts * 24 hpd * 30 days = 216,000 WH = 216 kWhrs per month

    However, our homes sometimes need 1,500 watts or more (microwave, well pump, starting loads on fridge/washer/etc.)... And that requires either a grid tied connection (like a GT solar system) or a local battery bank (again like an off-grid solar system) to make the unit useful for typical demand loads.

    All of which drive up the overall costs of power to your wall outlet.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • bryanlbryanl Solar Expert Posts: 175 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Re: The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough?

    The local energy company (now NV Energy) has had a standing offer for household sized natural gas and air fuel cells at something like $11k for many years. That is the cost level necessary to compete with the cost of installing service to a home.

    The reason no one has taken them up on the offer is because a fuel cell that doesn't use straight hydrogen is easily contaminated, the catalytic process often requires rather high temperatures, and the expensive and rare materials.

    Skeptics, Hype, & Scams does seem appropriate. There are many reasons to be skeptical when someone puts out a big publicity push that asserts they have found a solution to a set of problems that has been making only slow progress for decades.
  • westbranchwestbranch Solar Expert Posts: 5,180 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough?

    to remind everyone of a field we are all too familiar with , just look at Solar, lots of hype and good vibes years ago, now much more subdued... ... also look how long it has taken to get the Classic to market, development is a long row to hoe and there are bumps in the road... Will it be viable as opposed to 'can it be done' are 2 totally separate issues.
    Electric cards anyone??

    Eric
     
    KID #51B  4s 140W to 24V 900Ah C&D AGM
    CL#29032 FW 2126/ 2073/ 2133 175A E-Panel WBjr, 3 x 4s 140W to 24V 900Ah C&D AGM 
    Cotek ST1500W 24V Inverter,OmniCharge 3024,
    2 x Cisco WRT54GL i/c DD-WRT Rtr & Bridge,
    Eu3/2/1000i Gens, 1680W & E-Panel/WBjr to come, CL #647 asleep
    West Chilcotin, BC, Canada
  • BrockBrock Solar Expert Posts: 633 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough?

    I am with Bill on this one. Sure it might produce 300w 24x7, but how is a typical home going to use that? Surge loads would kill it or you would need a good sized battery bank and good sized inverter.

    Maybe they just make 300watts / hours and then feed that to a 300w grid tie inverter. That would be the least expensive way to go.

    My big question is what is the efficiency? How does it compare to a utility sized 50% efficient natural gas generation?

    Really this is shifting the load, not removing it, maybe a good shift?, but shifting it to another gaseous hydrocarbon.
    3kw solar PV, 8 L16's, xw 5548, Honda eu2000i, iota DLS-54-13, Leaf EV, 4 ton horizontal geothermal, grid tied - Green Bay, WI
  • audredgeraudredger Solar Expert Posts: 272 ✭✭
    Re: The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough?

    I agree there is a lot of hype here but, scam, no. I view it as one more step in the road to where we want to be. Bill is very correct, fuel cells do not respond to peak loads very well and an inverter with a battery bank would be required in real life.
    I would view this feeding a battery bank in the winter and capturing the heat (co generation) to heat the house. Localized rather than centralized generation is the key.
  • russruss Solar Expert Posts: 593 ✭✭
    Re: The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough?

    Capturing the heat could be a bit tricky - probably would require a heat exchanger arrangement to insure the gas could not possibly enter the house.
  • dreesdrees Solar Expert Posts: 481 ✭✭✭
    Re: The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough?
    Brock wrote: »
    My big question is what is the efficiency? How does it compare to a utility sized 50% efficient natural gas generation?
    The Oil Drum seems to think that it's up to 80% efficient.

    http://anz.theoildrum.com/node/6242#more

    If it's really 80% efficient and they can get the price down, they might really have something on their hands...
  • heynow999heynow999 Solar Expert Posts: 80 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough?

    Maybe those companies use it to save on time of use electricity costs?

    They must have a good idea of what thier electricity use is so maybe they size the system so it produces %80? of the peak needs and then just shut them down at night when they have less demand. Put the DC through an inverter, use all the production and get the rest from the grid. No battery backup, no net metering. That would make sense with what the one guy said where if they were to run them 24/7 they would produce 5 times thier needs.
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 29,992 admin
    Re: The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough?

    Notice:
    The Bloom Box--which costs $700,000 to $800,000 now--essentially is a device for making electricity on demand. Methane or other hydrocarbons are fed into the device along with oxygen. The mixture is heated to around 1,000 Celsius. As the gases pass through catalytic plates, the machine produces electricity, some heat, carbon dioxide and water. Other fuel cell manufacturers say they can convert 80 to 90 percent of the energy inserted into their boxes into usable energy. Bloom remains a little vague on efficiency, but if the company ranks with these competitors, the device will be more efficient than the traditional grid. Less than half the power burned at power plants turns into usable power in your home.

    Assuming the Wiki is roughly accurate for Ceramic based fuel cells... Theoretical efficiency is around 60%... Which is similar to that of a combined cycle (with steam) natural gas fired turbine of ~59%...

    Interesting downsides--Fuel Cell is very sensitive to Sulfur poisoning (natural gas has sulfur) and it takes an hour or so to bring up to temperature before you can light it off (thermal expansion/thermal shock damage).

    A large natural gas turbine (if I recall correctly) can be up to power in 15 minutes...

    Sounds like an alternative solution--but not necessarily a game changer... (my guess).

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • GreenerPowerGreenerPower Solar Expert Posts: 264 ✭✭✭✭✭✭
    Re: The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough?
    drees wrote: »
    The Oil Drum seems to think that it's up to 80% efficient.

    http://anz.theoildrum.com/node/6242#more

    If it's really 80% efficient and they can get the price down, they might really have something on their hands...
    My guess is ~90% fuel-cell efficiency and ~90% DC-AC conversion efficiency for the total ~80% efficiency. From those numbers ($50K/year fuel cost, $800K one-time system cost), if spreading over 20 years (if those "ceramic discs" lasts 20 years), it comes out to 9c/KWatt (before incentives/tax break ...), not too bad. Also from the cited figure - 1-million KWhr/year, this translates to 115KWatt/unit (running 24/7) . I would question this figure for a unit that size (how much space it takes just 115KWatt DC-AC inverter alone, the "discs" seems to take the majority of the space from the pictures), unless some of the figures that article obtained are not correct.
    GP
    edit to add: From the CBS "60-minute" utube clip, google has 5 "blocks", each seems to have 3x2 units i.e. total 30 units. That's 3.4 MegaWatts. Even if it's only 3 units on each "block", that's 1.7 MegaWatts. I doubt that that google building needs that much power. Something just doesn't add up.
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 29,992 admin
    Re: The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough?

    Usually, ceramic based fuel cells which use atmospheric oxygen are not anywhere near 80-90% efficiency... You have the 1,000 degree C preheat of air/fuel mixture, and (from what I understand) some compression of air (and probably for natural gas plus scrubbers/filters) for proper operation. Significant losses required to light one off.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • BrockBrock Solar Expert Posts: 633 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough?

    As Bill said because of the time to get the system going my guess is they size the units for the minimum load at the location and let them run 24x7.

    I would think a pre heat water tank would be a relatively straight forward option and could offset a majority of the loads or even replace existing water heating given a large enough storage tank..

    The biggest thing that jumped out at me was when he said they could be powered via solar, say what? Unless you use solar to generate H2, then burn the H2?
    3kw solar PV, 8 L16's, xw 5548, Honda eu2000i, iota DLS-54-13, Leaf EV, 4 ton horizontal geothermal, grid tied - Green Bay, WI
  • SolarLurkerSolarLurker Solar Expert Posts: 122 ✭✭
    Re: Battery backup power for NW PA

    Im in PA and have similar concerns as you do about power outages.

    One solution I found was the "freewatt furnace" it produces heat and electricity. This might be an option for you.

    Although you would still want solar panels
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 29,992 admin
    Re: Battery backup power for NW PA

    The "FreeWatt", at least last I heard, cannot provide backup power. It is only for Grid Tied use.

    FreeWatt thread here.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • crewzercrewzer Registered Users, Solar Expert Posts: 1,832 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Battery backup power for NW PA

    Looks like another of the new "fuel cell" products that are starting to show up: My understanding is that these systems convert natural gas and oxygen into electric power, heat, and water.

    Interesting stuff!
    Jim / crewzer
  • dsp3930dsp3930 Solar Expert Posts: 66 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Battery backup power for NW PA

    Perhaps I am missing something ....

    Since you have a natural gas well on property, why not just get a NG fed electric start generator with auto-transfer switch?
  • GreenerPowerGreenerPower Solar Expert Posts: 264 ✭✭✭✭✭✭
    Re: Battery backup power for NW PA
    dsp3930 wrote: »
    Perhaps I am missing something ....

    Since you have a natural gas well on property, why not just get a NG fed electric start generator with auto-transfer switch?
    generators are generally 20% or lower in efficiency converting heat to electricity. Fuel-cells those companies used are claiming they are ~80% in conversion efficiency. So, it uses 1/4 of the NG (and hence 1/4 of CO2) for the same amount of electricity generated. "Free-watt" is similar to your thought but targeting cold climate area, while heat generated from the engine/generator is used, electricity is a "by-product" (even though at much less efficiency) to offset your electricity usage.
    GP
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 29,992 admin
    Re: Battery backup power for NW PA

    Very few energy generation devices are 80-90% efficient (lead acid batteries are in this range).

    Using Jim's/Crewzer's link for Clear Edge which is a natural gas fueled fuel cell technology...

    From the How It Works presentation (have to sit through the animations), it reduces carbon emissions by 1/3 (not to 1/3).

    From comments in one of the Clear Edge articles--the fuel cells need replacement every 5 years or so (on customer's dime). Matches the 40,000 hour design life that I read in other places for fixed location fuel cell.

    From their calculator site--I would need a $1,000 per month electric bill to have a 4.8 year payback... My $30 per month electric bill (before solar) just is not on their current radar screen. And I am guessing that assumes I use 100% of the heat energy too (going to be one hot summer).

    From this article:
    In a year, one system can generate 43.8 megawatt hours of electricity and 51 megawatt hours equivalent of heat. In PG&E territory, the payback takes about 3.5 years. Southern California
    • 43.8 MWH / (43.8+51)MWH = 0.46 = 46% efficiency (maximum--unknown operational/heat losses)
    Interesting--but does not look compelling yet for small users.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • russruss Solar Expert Posts: 593 ✭✭
    Re: Battery backup power for NW PA

    İ looked at the article from www.greentechmedia.com that Bill provided the link for. The poor fellow Michael Kanellos interviewed must be somewhat of an idiot as shown in the next paragraph

    Because it can deliver heat and power, the fuel cell is around 90 percent efficient, said vice president of marketing Mike Upp.

    "We don't burn gas. We chemically convert it," he said. "We are trying to fit in the places in the market where solar isn't an option."


    Last İ heard burning is a form of chemical conversion - guess the guy may have been an English major. The 90% is smoke!

    Their claims on being more efficient with gas use are equally silly - any new combined cycle gas fired turbine will discharge flue gas to the atmosphere just above the possible acid dewpoint. They know the value of the heat very well. A home system would not come as close İ am sure.

    The most important part of the entire article is most likely the subsidy and incentive portion - get into Unc Sam's pocket as far as possible.
  • bryanlbryanl Solar Expert Posts: 175 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Re: The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough?

    One PSA said that a household sized BB would cost about $750k (compared to the local energy co offer of $11k I mentioned). They hope to reduce it to $3k in some reasonable time frame. That seems to be rather optimistic.

    As for the solar energy thing - that may go back to the device's roots. It seems the original effort was to produce oxygen for Mars explorers by splitting CO2 from solar energy. That effort was dropped so the research went into reversing the process.
  • russruss Solar Expert Posts: 593 ✭✭
    Re: The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough?

    Looked at the Bloom site and read several articles. All are very short on information other than BS & blather. Nothing at all on O&M costs outside of the natural gas.

    Any time some one dances around efficiency rather than give real information there is a reason. Like İ mentioned before heat recovery isn't so easy. Especially when the heat is delivered by a non-life supporting gas.

    İ think they are really just looking for investors. The presidents son wants a new Tesla or something like that.
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 29,992 admin
    Re: Battery backup power for NW PA

    Take Russ' note that heat+electric is 90% efficient, then my earlier equation becomes:
    • 43.8 MWH / [(43.8+51)*1/0,9] MWH = 0.41 = 41% efficient electricity generation
    Like most fuel driving generators--turn them into co-generation facilities, and anything can become "90%" efficient generators. But the electrical only efficiency--ain't that good. Add battery + inverters for an off grid solution (using propane--if possible?):
    • 41% * 0.80 flooded cell batt eff * 0.85 inverter eff = 28% efficient at electrical generation
    Again, not very compelling.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 29,992 admin
    Re: The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough?

    Note: moved last eight posts from "Battery backup power for NW PA" thread--Really fits better with this Bloom Box / Fuel Cell Thread...

    -Bill "moderator" B.
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • russruss Solar Expert Posts: 593 ✭✭
    Re: The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough?

    A copy of a post İ made on another site -

    The past few days there has been a lot written about the Bloom Box fuel cell and how wonderful it is. The articles and TV interview seem to have been uniformly done by non-technical types which probably serves Blooms purpose just fine. A couple of quotes from more technical types:

    From a very interested party (a VC with money in the pot) -
    “It’s a disruptive technology,” said John Doerr, a prominent venture capitalist who helped finance Bloom and sits on its board. “It works, so the hurdles are scale and cost. We’ve got to make a lot of these systems reliably, and that’s hard work.” My comment - There are thousands of technologies that could make the same claim.

    From İEEE Spectrum -
    If SOFC's haven't taken off it's because they produce power at higher cost than the grid, and there's no evidence that the Bloom Box will fix that.

    From someone who most likely knows -
    Some fuel cell experts have been blistering in their criticism of Bloom and its hypers. "I'm actually pretty pissed off about it, to be quite honest," is how Nigel Sammes, an SOFC expert at the Colorado School of Mines, expressed his emotions on the Bloom Box to National Geographic. "It really is nothing new. Go to any [SOFC] Web site and you'll see the same stuff."

    The only thing technical on the web page for the Bloom Box is a technical description from the Colorado School of Mines. You would think that if they really had something they could at least make their own technical material and not use a generic writeup from a university.

    İ believe they are in need of more funding!
  • GreenerPowerGreenerPower Solar Expert Posts: 264 ✭✭✭✭✭✭
    Re: The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough?

    To bring it to the front, editing old post doesn't bring it up.
    ...Also from the cited figure - 1-million KWhr/year, this translates to 115KWatt/unit (running 24/7) . I would question this figure for a unit that size (how much space it takes just 115KWatt DC-AC inverter alone, the "discs" seems to take the majority of the space from the pictures), unless some of the figures that article obtained are not correct.
    GP
    edit to add: From the CBS "60-minute" utube clip, google has 5 "blocks", each seems to have 3x2 units i.e. total 30 units. That's 3.4 MegaWatts. Even if it's only 3 units on each "block", that's 1.7 MegaWatts. I doubt that that google building needs that much power. Something just doesn't add up.

    GP
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