Bloom Box another Indian Invention set to change the world

By saying its an Indian invention is going to sensationalize the whole story. I would like to clarify however that, the Inventor of the device is an Indian who used to work at NASA, K R Sridhar. Can the name be more Indian ? lol. However  last week he had a public launch of this invention the “Bloom Box”, which can produce (hold your breath) Clean Energy. I did mention in an earlier post that the tech with the most growth expected is Power Generation. And its no surprise that I am getting to see more development on that front.

Whats the big deal you ask ? Especially since you can find a lot of information these days on ‘Eco Tech” websites. Well A brick sized device in the corner of your house can generate enough energy to run your house. Yes, you read that right, and whats its main ingredient ? Sand. You know that a technology has the most potential when you can boast of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Colin Powell and the heads of Google and Walmart at its launch. Even more unlikely, the firm in question makes what some may regard as a less than sexy clean energy device.

According to Sridhar, a single cell can produce about 25W, enough for a low-energy lightbulb, and a stack of cells the size of a brick will power an average home. A single Bloom box, a unit the size of a chest freezer and which contains several stacks of fuel cells, will produce 100KW, enough for 100 homes. The box consists of a stack of ceramic disks coated with green and black “inks.” The disks are separated by cheap metal alloy plates. Methane (or other hydrocarbons) and oxygen are fed in, the whole thing is heated up to 1,000 degrees Celsius, and electricity comes out. Bloom estimates that a box filled with 64 ceramic disks can produce enough juice to power a Starbucks.

So Here is what makes this technology so exciting :

  • The Bloom Energy Server is made out of fuel cells, or electrochemical cells. A single fuel cell consists of an anode, a cathode, and an electrolyte stuck between the two. As fuel flows in through the anode side and an oxidant comes in over the cathode, a reaction is triggered that causes electrons to move into the fuel cell’s circuit, producing electricity.
  • The Bloom Energy Server isn’t actually a server–that’s just a PR buzzword. In actuality, it’s a distributed power generator. Each “server” produces 100 kW of power, consists of thousands of fuel cells, costs between $700,000 and $800,000, and pays for itself in three to 5 years based on an energy cost of 8 to 9 cents per kW hour.
  • There are many different types of fuel cells. Some of the more popular ones include methanol fuel cells, hydrogen fuel cells, and zinc-air batteries. The Bloom Energy Server consists of solid oxide fuel cells, which are attractive because they can be made out of low-cost materials with high energy efficiencies.
  • The cells can run on a variety of fuels, including traditional fuel, natural gas, biomass gas, landfill gas, and ethanol.
  • Until now, technical challenges have stopped solid oxide fuel cells from being commercialized, but the company’s cells (“sand” baked into ceramic squares that are coated with green and black inks) supposedly have overcome most of the issues. Bloom’s Web site has a great animation showing how solid oxide fuel cells work.

Bloom Energy

  • One of the biggest problems with solid oxide fuel cells is their temperature requirement–the ceramic squares only become active at extremely high temperatures (up to 1800 F). That means Bloom’s cells will have to prove that they can remain durable under the stress–already, the company has had to come out to replace cells at eBay’s installation, which has been running for just 7 months. In general, Bloom expects that its fuel cell stacks will have to be switched out twice during the device’s 10 year lifespan.
  • Bloom’s device generates electricity at 50% to 55% conversion efficiency. In comparison, solar generally produces power at between 10% to 15% efficiency. But unlike solar panels, the Bloom Energy Server produces CO2 as a byproduct. According to the Energy Collective, “CO2 emissions when running on natural gas would be just under 0.8 pounds/kWh, which compares favorably to electricity from central station coal-fired plants (2 lbs/kWh) or natural gas plants (roughly 1.3 lbs/kWh) and the national average for on-grid electricity (around 1.3-1.5 lbs/kWh).” If the box runs on landfill gas or biogas, it produces net zero carbon emissions.
  • Eventually, Bloom hopes that a scaled-down version device can be used in homes. A residential Bloom Box would produce 1 kW of power and cost approximately $3,000. But that probably won’t happen for at least 10 years.

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  1. Wow! What an amazing revolution!

    I am proud of Mr. K R Sridhar, he has made us proud!

    Anyway, thanks for explaining the nuances and the nitty-gritty details of the Bloom Box….

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