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February 24, 2010

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Danube of Thought

This widget was featured on 60 Minutes Sunday.

Just as the feds are talking about hundreds of billions to upgrade the grid, along comes an entrepreneur looking to render the grid obsolete.

It reminds me of a point someone made a few years ago to the effect that if the feds had been charged with developing the nation's transportation system at the founding, the US would now be crisscrossed by a world-class network of barge canals. (Of course, it was indeed the feds that gave us the interstate highway system.)

Charlie (Colorado)

I'm not seeing the part about carbohydrates. But the general notion isn't implausible as described. I just remember a lot of other things like this that weren't inherently implausible as described.

Clarice

I saw the stahl interview with the inventor.. A number of companies besides Google use it..EBay I think is one of them. Very interesting. each house or block could have its own..Quite compact actually. Hope it works.

George

You said "carbohydrates and...electricity" and suggested it makes "bread and...electricity."

When I saw that, I instead instinctively thought of "beer and electricity." That would be a real winner!

Unfortunately, I didn't see anything about carbohydrates in the original article but I still like the electric generating part.

It is the Inter Eisen State Hower Higway System.

High temperature might be problematic.
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Old Lurker

LUN is the youtube of the 60 Minutes piece.

It is interesting and if it is a scam, some big names are getting scammed.

Rob Crawford

It is interesting and if it is a scam, some big names are getting scammed.

Well, in the age of global warming, we know those "big names" are eminently scammable.

glasater

A few years ago I went to a lecture on hydrogen fuel cells powering cars.
He described them as mini Hindenburgs going down the road--a visual I will never forget...

Ignatz

Just as a caveat, a company named PlugPower which was affiliated with Edison Electric was touting the imminent introduction of residential PEM fuel cells in the late 90's for around $7-8,000 and had people and companies testing prototypes.
I am still waiting as is the rest of the world.

MikeS

I think calling these things a power source is incorrect. They run off a fuel and generate electricity, so they are little generators.

I would like to see a comparison of these gadgets with a generator I might buy at Home Depot and rig to run off natural gas. A comparison of cost as well as emissions would be revealing.

Ignatz

--I would like to see a comparison of these gadgets with a generator I might buy at Home Depot and rig to run off natural gas.--

Apparently their only product at the moment is a 100KW device so that would have to be a pretty big generator for Home Depot.

Pofarmer

Ignatz, I remember that deal. There were even local coops started up to use them.

Now, about the technology, one interesting note is that this is based on technology that would have been used to provide oxygen on the Moon or Mars. They are "running it in reverse" to make electricity. So, this is a byproduct of all the stuff Obama doesn't want to fund. Obama wants to fund social programs. I can name several great advances from space exploration, what great advances have Welfare given us?

Charlie (Colorado)

I think calling these things a power source is incorrect. They run off a fuel and generate electricity, so they are little generators.

Well, yeah ... but then generators are power sources. How is this different from regular power plants, nuclear power plants, etc?

Charlie (Colorado)

Apparently their only product at the moment is a 100KW device so that would have to be a pretty big generator for Home Depot.

Some other articles (there was one at TechCrunch) mention a home edition that costs $2K and generate something like 1kW — so you'd need 2 for the usual home.

Considering the temp the thing runs at, I'd guess you could manage heating and hot water off waste heat.

Pofarmer

I can run our home/farmstead running only essentials on 5500 watts. 1kw for $2k, if it can actually produce for the stated amount(8-9 cents/kwh) and they won't be able to build them fast enough. That would indicate they are VERY efficient with the energy they use.

Clarice

The basic plates are made from sea sand--quick, Chaco, let's buy up all the beaches.

Pofarmer

This really is exciting stuff if true. The heat can be used for heating OR cooling. With advance in LED lighting etc, homes are BOUND to become more energy efficient. Of course, they do use evil hydrocarbons. Maybe we could mike biocrude out of Liberals?

Old Lurker

I ain't getting excited until Chaco and DrJ both tell me to. Kim can referee.

Old Lurker

Fox News has a slide show at LUN describing (sort of) how the thing works. My nose twitches on two parts: The "special super secret ink" painted on the sand plates, and "as long as you supply fuel,air, and HEAT, it makes electricity. Where does the heat come from and is it netted against the electricity generated?

I'm still trying to get this damn Cold Fusion gadget I bought five years ago to work.

Po, Iggy: we buy 45KW Onan Natural Gas Standby Generators for <$20,000 and that's what it takes to run an airconditioned house in DC that has 200A service. 1 or 2 KW is not going to do much for many.

DrJ

Not enough information at the link to make any sort of assessment, I'm afraid. In fact, the reaction listed is not correct -- the charges do not balance. It also would be the same as combustion (so the same CO2 release as buring the methane) but that does not agree with some of the figures.

Kindergarten slides!

Rob Crawford

I can name several great advances from space exploration, what great advances have Welfare given us?

The term "wilding"?

mefolkes

Oxidation produces carbon dioxide from fuel. Combustion is one form of oxidation. I love the qualifiers about needing additional gear the size of a refrigerator to support the "miracle device" the size of a brick and about the need to supply heat for the process. As OL pointed out, no one has explained where the heat comes from.

My new home in Alaska, off-grid, will rely on a combination of a gasoline gen-set, photovoltaic panels and an aerogenerator, all feeding a bank of forklift batteries and an inverter. If a nearby small watercourse has sufficient flow and head, I might be able to get by with a micro-hydro turbine installation. But I can't see a home-sized Bloom device being of use for me, because I would have to constantly be hauling tanks of propane across the strait. I can't imagine any alternative sources of fuel for the device in that location, methane or otherwise.

boris

the same CO2 release as buring the methane

Pure speculation ... but it could be oxidizing the H without making CO2. If one of the byproducts is carbohydrate then that would explain it.

Pofarmer

1 or 2 KW is not going to do much for many.

I must apologize, as, this morning, I read that as 10 instead of 1.

If a nearby small watercourse has sufficient flow and head, I might be able to get by with a micro-hydro turbine installation.

If there is ANY way you can make the micro hydro work, go for it. I don't see any way to get more bang for your bunk on home sized generation. Plus, it's constant.

Ignatz

--Po, Iggy: we buy 45KW Onan Natural Gas Standby Generators for <$20,000 and that's what it takes to run an airconditioned house in DC that has 200A service.--

That doesn't seem correct OL.
A one home standby generator should be in the 7-8KW realm. Like Po we have a 5.5KW gen for emergency power but can only run about 1/2 to 2/3 of our circuits with it.
On the other hand 1-2KW will not run a home either. One electric space heater consumes 1500 watts.

According to Bloom's Clyde Crashcup sounding animation
they claim sufficent heat from the reaction to maintain the process.

DrJ

There is no way they are making carbohydrates from this gizmo.

Of course they didn't show the half-cell reactions (this is Kindergarten after all) but electrochemical reactions can lead to different reaction products than simple oxidations. They imply that by their claim that they produce half the CO2 (but do not specify on what basis).

Usually fuel cells convert natural gas to CO using steam reforming (which they mention and would be logical since they use high temperatures) and then use a water shift reaction to generate hydrogen, which is involved in the electrochemistry.

But there is so little information on their web site that one cannot really tell what they are doing.

Its a shame that I have not run across one of their proposals. I've read quite a few on various aspects of fuel cell application.

Rob Crawford

So, Bloom never bothers to mention their patent numbers? The patents should explain their process.

BTW -- no patents, no process. I don't trust anyone who depends on secrecy.

Old Lurker

Iggy, I did a load analysis for my house when we got tired of the power outages ere in MD. Without a doubt, as you said, the survival circuits required 8-12KW. But in a "what the hell" state of mind, I wanted to not suffer at all if the power is out in July on a hot day. We use 22 tons of AC, and that led directly to the 45KW requirement, particularly when the startup surges of the AC units (6 total) were taken into account. But we have unlimited natural gas at this house (and I have some gas well investments) so I figured what the heck, it's my gas...

DrJ

Rob, go a step further: no patents, no venture funding. So they have 'em, but they might not be in their name (could be licensed, for example).

mefolkes

DrJ and Boris, true that the reaction product doesn't have to include carbon dioxide, but those are very complicated reactions. I'm always wary when the delivery seems too smooth and the details are sparse. One of my cousins dragged me to a seminar for a multi-level marketing operation featuring petroleum distillates that were claimed to do all sorts of enhancing things to engine lubrication, fuel economy and oil furnace efficiency. The MC was a much-loved retired football coach. But the "technical synopsis" was a bunch of gobbledegook. My cousin was outraged when I wouldn't work with him on the deal. The whole operation was shut down by the attorney general and the fire marshall within the next year. When I was a kid, a slick-talker neighbor made the news when he swindled Arthur Godfrey and a number of celebrities out of a small fortune.

Pofarmer, yes, I'm really hoping for the location to be ideal for micro-hydro. But we are taking steps to reduce the electrical load. It would be insane to use electrical space heaters in an off-grid situation. But we are going to use propane for domestic water heating, clothes drying and the kitchen range. It's amazing how those actions reduce the need for "juice". I'd be happy to discuss this with you further, outside of JOM. A couple of regulars have my e-mail address, and we can find a way of not exposing either of our addresses to trolls.

DrJ

Well, Bloom Energy holds 16 patents in their name, of which it looks like 14 apply to fuel cells. I may give a few a quick scan.

DrJ

the reaction product doesn't have to include carbon dioxide

Practically is does. It may make some other things, but rest assured you will get CO2.

The alternative energy field is full of frauds. I looked at a business plan that one group ran by a friend of mine. What they claimed simply was not possible thermodynamically. When I offered to clean up their chemistry, they wanted me to work for stock only!

No, thank you very much.

Rob Crawford

Rob, go a step further: no patents, no venture funding. So they have 'em, but they might not be in their name (could be licensed, for example).

No guarantee. There are plenty of fools who would pony up cash for a scam without doing even basic research.

DrJ

Rob, no VC firm in the Valley would invest in a company that cannot protect itself through a solid patent portfolio. Ask me how I know!

John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins is on their Board, and they know what they are doing.

Old Lurker

"John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins is on their Board, and they know what they are doing."

That is exactly why we can't jump to conclusions on this one. I'm less impressed with thye lefty companies who signed up for the installations so far.

matt

when they prove their technology in public I'll believe it. Hiding behind closed doors doesn't work very well when advancing technology.

With the world's most uncurious press, they'll pretty much re-write a few lines of the press releases as news. It was hard to fake Edison's inventions, but perpetual motion machines and alchemy are right up there at the top of the fraud charts.

The best frauds are the ones where the rubes really want to believe they're true. I'm from Missouri on this one.

boris

The data sheet pdf does list "CO2 @ specified efficiency 773 lbs/MW-hr on natural gas" under emissions. And further down says "Exempt from CA Air District permitting; meets stringent CARB 2007 emissions standards" which may be where the carbohydrate idea comes from.

Ignatz

--John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins is on their Board, and they know what they are doing.--

DrJ,
Is that the same John Doerr who teamed up with that fraudulent gasbag Al Gore? :)

DrJ

Ignatz,

Sure is. Kleiner Perkins not not averse to pulling political strings, so view Gore as a political hedge. But they do not invest in unsound companies, as a rule. Even most sound ones fail.

That's not to say there is anything to the Bloom technology or product.

Old Lurker

That gasbag sure has made a lot of money since reiring from public office.

Ignatz

--We use 22 tons of AC, and that led directly to the 45KW requirement, particularly when the startup surges of the AC units (6 total) were taken into account.--

22 tons! You must supply ice for the Capitals summer league.

Clarice

You know , matt, I really don't understand why so many people queastion alchemy and perpetual motion. The science is settled.

E. Nigma

It seems like they have an 'in situ' reformer technology to separate hydrogen from carbon to allow the fuel cell to work. And yes, the thing does produce CO2.

From my limited knowledge of these types of SOFC, one of the big problems is that the electrodes get poisoned by the presence of CO made from the reformer process (from a methane or hydrocarbon feed). So there usually has to be some sort of purification process (like pressure swing adsorption) to remove CO and other impurities from the H2 reformer gas stream, so the electrodes aren't bound irreversibly to CO, which in a relatively short time can render the fuel cell inoperative (like CO poisoning hemaglobin in people).
The trick then is that they can somehow control the formation of CO (prevent it). To my limited understanding.

Ignatz

--Kleiner Perkins not not averse to pulling political strings, so view Gore as a political hedge.--

DrJ,
Were it only pulling political strings it would be understandable, if somewhat lacking in character.
But as this sycophantic paean by Doerr reveals he seems something more of a true believer rather than just an operator.

--That gasbag sure has made a lot of money since reiring from public office.--

OL,
I do not dispute that Gore is a keen student of PT Barnum's business model.

Melinda Romanoff

DrJ-

First Solar proved that political persuasion can fuel a compamy. Pity it only goes so far. The ratio of lobbying dollars, at the end of '07, was for every $1.00 down, you got back $22,000. No better return on investment.

Guess what First Solar spent all their money on?

DrJ

Ignatz,

Most VCs I have known are not exactly high on the character scale. Not exactly unethical, but ethics are not their primary motivation.

Doerr might suffer from the Bay Area environmental disease. Or he might just be pimping for his portfolio companies. Who knows. But over the years their investment portfolios have worked out pretty well.

DrJ

Melinda,

I don't know First Solar, but it sounds like Molten Metal back in the day.

Old Lurker

Iggy, somehow I have more respect for PT than his pale carbon copy. Barnum knew what he was and worked hard to be ood at it. This guy...not so much.

And yes, it gets really hot & humid here and I don't like that. If common design is to deliver 75 inside when 92 outside, I sized for 72 at 100. But that's why I have six systems so they can operate in layers to avoid overcooling except when they are all needed. Trouble is...when the demand is that high, that's when we lose our power! So go figure.

Melinda Romanoff

DrJ-

Now we're wading into something! Any guesses as to how long Doerr might have been buried in this "brand spankin' new green energy source"? If it's less than seven years, I would be shocked. This roll out of "new" news, in a dearth of good economic news, is so very convenient.

I smell a new IPO in the very near future, that just might make Doerr's original investment "whole".

But, I might be the sceptical sort.

Melinda Romanoff

septic? maybee.

skeptic? definitely.

Melinda Romanoff

DrJ-

First Solar is still trading over $100/share.

Very political company, that uses '60's photovoltaics.

DrJ

Melinda,

I *think* Doerr first invested in this company in 2002, so you are right. The technical people are from U of Arizona (a good school) and were involved with fuel cells for the Mars project. That's the claim, at least.

Now is it for real? Or is the company part of the living dead, and the publicity is being generated to get *something* out of an otherwise moribund corpse? I've no idea. No S-1 filing yet.

Melinda Romanoff

Interesting.

"Senator" Babs is no longer safe in her seat.

Sorry, O/T.

DrJ

Melinda,

I saw that, and can assure you that I will do my part to see that her seat is not safe. (The mental image that this brings up, well, I'll not go there.)

Melinda Romanoff

DrJ-

Let them give me an efficiency ratio so I can figure out whether or not the silica plates are seeded or soaked.

I'm not buying the four-color graphics (a PR term for "All flash, no cash") of their site.

And what minimum pressure is that Nat. Gas deliverd at?

Oh, the questions that flow....

DrJ

Melinda,

Their site really does not say anything. Nothing. That's not unusual, but not encouraging either.

I'd be happy with a process block diagram, material and energy balances, a few half-cell reactions, and representative performance data along the process. Fat chance.

  Coach Handbags

Great articles and it's so ahelpful. I want to add your blog into my rrs reader but i can't find the rrs address. Would you please send your address to my email? Thanks a lot!

Melinda Romanoff

DrJ-

You see my point, all ink(pixels), no math.

I can run with just a balanced equation, but this is too slick, too convenient.

Needs salt, but, just the same, they aren't expecting someone like me, or you, to pony up a check.

I just hope it's no an "Icarus"...

Back to the file "graves" tomorrow, so I'm going to fade.

G'night all.

Ignatz

-- Not exactly unethical, but ethics are not their primary motivation.....Or he might just be pimping for his portfolio companies.--

Doc, you obviously didn't read my link. He's doing it for the children.

--Iggy, somehow I have more respect for PT than his pale carbon copy.--

Of course. Barnum was a genius and quite entertaining. Manbearpig only subscribes to the "sucker" part of the program and even then he's a stilted bore of the first water.

DrJ

He's doing it for the children.

Of *course* he is. Everything worthwhile is always for the children.

Please ignore the national debt. That is an investment.

mefolkes

Gee, Bloom Energy gives a ten-year life span for its fuel cell units. Now that is something to be concerned about. For individual residences, the costs add up. The company's estimate of 1kw being sufficient is ridiculous for a modern Western home. The replacement of some equipment in my off-grid island home with propane units will help me cope with less than the 5kw that many figure is the better average electrical use for a household. Let's say that the company has trouble meeting the $3,000/unit target they boasted about just a month ago. I would need three units. Call it ten grand. Then I would have to either haul lots of my own propane tanks just to serve the fuel cells or call in the special barge propane delivery, if their hose would reach up the hill to my cabin, and have them fill a bulk tank. I shudder to think of the cost. After ten years I'd need to lay out another ten grand or more to replace the original units. I'll just take the generous tax credits and rebates and get photovoltaic panels and an aerogenerator, and add a gasoline gen-set as a backup. Or, hopefully, I'll find that the flowing water will be sufficient for a turbine.

I've had enough of partially thought-out solutions. Up here in Minnesota, the vaunted new electric cars might be able to get me to my county seat alone, with enough room for a couple of bags of groceries, and even get me home again, if I found an outlet I could plug into for an hour or two. BUT, that would only be in the summer. In the winter, the battery output would be so low that I wouldn't be able to get to the small town five miles away. It doesn't matter what the problems are to urban greenies, as long as they don't face the hassles personally.

TCO

Fuel cells and solid oxide fuel cells are well known technology. I'm not surprised that you are suprised by how they function as it is a little counterintuitive and is NOT a heat engine. Rather it is an electrochemical process.

I read a paper about the cyclicality of fuel cell enthusiasm, written 20 years ago and already noting several cycles. It's natural to get enthusiastic, the first time you research it and learn the process.

However, if Bloom has something, it would be around making the fuel cells more durable, cheaper to manufacture, etc. Not in just the fundamental reactions/process.

Given the hype and coyness, I have a lot of doubts, that they have done the hard work to make SOFCs viable.

TCO

The wikipedia article is pretty decent. (There are other books, peer reviewed pubs, popular articles, etc.)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solid_oxide_fuel_cell

Westinghouse was state of the art, 20 years ago with their "rolled tube" design. Doesn't seem to have become commercial in last 20 years though.

Efficiencies are higher than phosphoric acid or molten carbonate (also high temp) or polymer (usually for transport) fuel cells. This allows use of methane rather than hydrogen or synthesis gas (H2/CO), with the subsequent savings in lower fuel reformulation cost. Running hotter also improves efficiency. However, running hot hurts durability. And the units are heavy, so inappropriate for transprotation. In addition, there is auxillairy machinery required.

Two thumbs new.

It's always the heat, isn't it?
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