Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Bloom Energy's Secret Weapon

You are probably thinking Bloom Energy is another fossil fueled company trying to make a buck, but it's quite the opposite.
Bloom Energy began its humble beginnings with the University of Arizona as part of the NASA Mars space program. Dr. KR Sridhar and his team were in charge with creating a technology that could sustain life on Mars. They built a device capable of producing air and fuel from electricity, and/or electricity from air and fuel. They soon discovered this could be implemented here on earth as well. So what is a fuel cell and what does it exactly do?

Fuel cells were invented over a century ago and have been used in practically every NASA mission since the 1960's, but until now, they have not gained widespread adoption because of their inherently high costs.
Legacy fuel cell technologies like proton exchange membranes (PEMs), phosphoric acid fuel cells (PAFCs), and molten carbonate fuel cells (MCFCs), have all required expensive precious metals, corrosive acids, or hard to contain molten materials. Combined with performance that has been only marginally better than alternatives, they have not been able to deliver a strong enough economic value proposition to overcome the status quo.
Some makers of legacy fuel cell technologies have tried to overcome these limitations by offering combined heat and power (CHP) schemes to take advantage of their wasted heat. While CHP does improve the economic value proposition, it only really does so in environments with exactly the right ratios of heat and power requirements on a 24/7/365 basis. Everywhere else the cost, complexity, and customization of CHP tends to outweigh the benefits.
For decades, experts have agreed that solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) hold the greatest potential of any fuel cell technology. With low cost ceramic materials, and extremely high electrical efficiencies, SOFCs can deliver attractive economics without relying on CHP. But until now, there were significant technical challenges inhibiting the commercialization of this promising new technology. SOFCs operate at extremely high temperature (typically above 800°C). This high temperature gives them extremely high electrical efficiencies, and fuel flexibility, both of which contribute to better economics, but it also creates engineering challenges.
Bloom has solved these engineering challenges. With breakthroughs in materials science, and revolutionary new design, Bloom's SOFC technology is a cost effective, all-electric solution.
Over a century in the making, fuel cells are finally clean, reliable, and most importantly, affordable.

*Information attained from the Bloom Energy website: http://bloomenergy.com/

In a nutshell here’s what Sridhar’s invention does…it utilizes a clean electrochemical process (rather than dirty combustion) to convert air and a fuel source into electricity. Virtually any fuel source ranging from natural gas to a wide variety of biogases can be utilized. If the Bloom Energy Server is powered by a renewable fuel it can be 100% cleaner than a coal-fired power plant.
Could there any drawbacks to the the use of this new technology? In other reviews, there has been indication of how this technology might be utilized in the automotive industry and its pursuit of an efficient source of clean omissions.
Customers of the “Bloom Box” are some of the largest and most influential companies in America. Coca-Cola, eBay, Google, Staples and FedEx believe enough in this technology to become customers.This is fascinating times for us and could be one of many new solutions for our future in the hope to slowly divert away from fossil fuels to a alternative and cleaner energy source. 

By Cathlean Ravinski

*Information attained from the following website: http://energyoffuture.com/2010/04/energy-technology-is-%E2%80%9Cbloom%E2%80%9Ding-these-days/

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