The Bloom Box actually started life as a solar powered device to make oxygen for breathing and hydrogen to power vehicles on Mars as a part of a scrapped NASA project. Bloom Energy founder, K.R. Sridhar, realized that if he reversed the process he could generate electricity by feeding oxygen and fuel (hydrogen) in the cell. 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.
The secretive company has been operating for eight years and the 60 Minutes report was the first time the secret behind the Bloom Box has been revealed. Unlike many hydrogen fuel cells that require expensive precious metal, the Bloom box fuel cell is built from an extremely cheap ceramic material – sand. For months now, Bloom Energy has been testing refrigerator-size Bloom Boxes at campuses of major corporations—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.
The ceramic disks that form the core of the Box are painted with special “inks” – green on one side and black on the other. The disk acts as an electrode so that at high temperatures, a hydrocarbon fuel – ethanol, biodiesel, methane, or natural gas – on one side of the cell attracts oxygen ions from the other. As the ions are pulled through the solid core, the resulting electrochemical reaction creates electricity. The disks are stacked together separated by a cheap metal alloy. A stack of 64, which is around the size of a house brick, can generate enough power to run a small business. The size of the entire unit needs to be bigger to accommodate other components such as the fuel source supply.
Bloom Box reportedly proved twice as efficient as traditional power sources and produced 60% fewer emissions.According to the Guardian, Sridhar’s work draws on his research on generating oxygen for Nasa’s missions to Mars. Oxygen is drawn into one side of the cell, while a fuel, such as a natural gas or bio-fuel, is drawn into the other side. The two combine within the cell and produce a chemical reaction that creates energy without any burning or combustion.
A 100kW Bloom Box fuel cell currently costs between $700,000 to $800,000 with a reported three-to-five-year payback. Bloom Energy hopes to mass produce home-sized units of the fuel cell product and sell each for under $3000. Company CEO K.R. Sridhar told The New York Times that when using natural gas, his devices are making cheaper electricity at 8–10 cents/kWh, which is lower than current electricity rates in some parts of the country, such as California.
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