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Old 02-23-2010, 11:23 PM   #21
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I don't understand why you don't think 'beach sand' is not a 'leap in cost/performance' over platinum.
Well, that depends on how much of the total system cost is represented by platinum. And lots of very expensive electronic components are made from beach sand too - it's an odd way to put it, so that does make me skeptical.


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Is the inverter part of the box, are the wafers that make up the fuel cells more fragile due to the vastly cheaper materials?
I googled pure sine inverters, and units that didn't come close to powering a whole house were > $2,000. So I'm guessing the price does not include inverters. Or maybe they are counting on some form of 'net metering', and the unit really cannot power a whole house by itself, but would rely on the grid for peak power, and the box could produce an average amount of power? That bit of semantics would make a big difference. A $100 electric bill @ $0.10/KWHr is 1 MWHr, but divide by 30 days and 24 hours is 'just' 1,400 Watts on average. That's a reasonably sized inverter. But then this thing would not provide full-house power back up for me, so that lessens it's value from that viewpoint.

Quote:
If I can pay 6K for two boxes to power my house for ever (with fuel cost at half assuming it is twice as efficient) AWESOME.
mmmm, maybe. Remember, he said half the fuel cost of 'traditional' ... something or another (I'm not going to go back and listen again, I wish they had a transcript). From an economic decision, I just care what a KWHr is going to cost me versus buying from the Utility company, that's the bottom line, not some maybe-not-apples-to-apples comparison.

Plus, outside my monthly 'connection fee', when I buy a KWHr, that's it. It includes the infrastructure cost. Here, you are owning the infrastructure, and (as you point out), repair & maintenance.

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Originally Posted by eridanus View Post
Fuel cells don't require natural gas. They can run off of hydrogen ...
And the most cost effective place to get hydrogen today is from Natural Gas. If you are going to make it with water and electricity, let's just skip the middle-man and all the inefficiencies and just use the electricity directly.


Quote:
We don't know if the $100,000 savings includes carry costs. You assume it doesn't. (What bank is giving 5% interest? Tell us more.)
No, we don't know for sure. That's the problem with these kind of presentations, and the devil is in the details. But as they seem to be leave out a lot of details, I'm betting that they left that little 'carrying cost' detail out also. It is left out of most of the justifications I have seen for 'green energy' items. And corporate bonds are getting ~ 5% interest, so unless a company has cash sitting around in a bank (with shareholders wondering why they aren't putting the money to work in their business), they will be paying 5% or so for this infrastructure - so it does play into the cost analysis.

But maybe the smoke and mirrors will be lifted tomorrow. After all, these things were being considered 10 years ago, so with some good improvements they might be feasible. And if it's an average 1400 Watt unit, rather than a peak 24,000 Watt unit, payback could be reasonable.

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Old 02-24-2010, 08:21 AM   #22
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OK, the more I think about this, the more I believe it is a continuous ~1,400 Watt generator. That would make each of his hand-held blocks a 700 watt generator, which seems feasible. And as I said earlier, a 1,400 watt inverter would be a few hundred $, not the thousands of a peak power inverter. The comment from them that this was all done "wirelessly" made it sound to be off-grid. But that means a unit sized for peak loads for a home, and that is a whole 'nother story.

Install costs for a 1,400 watt unit would be more reasonable also. We are not talking large gauge wires. Even at 50% eff%, that would be less than 10,000 BTU of NG, about 1/3rd the size of an NG water heater, 1/10th of a furnace, so no big NG pipes either.

In the eBay example, the installation provides 15% of the campus needs, so it makes sense it is running continuous, peaks would be handled by other sources. So, we still need the Utility connection to the grid. Payback would depend on the net-metering scheme, and we shift some cost to the NG utility.

Also, reading up on fuel cells a bit, the efficiency improves if you draw a relatively light load from them. So, if they can make the cell cheaply, they can effectively 'over-size' it. This would keep the power draw lower relative to size and efficiencies go up. So the cost reduction helps in two ways, until they hit the 'sweet spot'.

This eBay article speculated on a 10 year life of the box.

eBay Opens Up About Installing Bloom Boxes and Their Room for Improvement | Sustainability | Fast Company

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Old 02-24-2010, 08:52 AM   #23
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Well, if the bottom line payback period is 2-3 years and they last 10 years, I would consider that a winner.
Granted, that is a big 'IF'. I look forward to hearing this type of information from the other companies that are currently using bloom boxes.

As for the style of presentation, it was exactly what I would expect from any company about any product when talking to a TV news magazine type show.
What has always triggered red flags for me is when you would see this type of presentation to engineers, accountants and other people that would normally expect to see hard numbers and specifics.
When you have a 20 minute block of time with a non-technical audiance, details take a back seat. I agree completely though that we need to see those details. Hopefully we will see some today?
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Old 02-24-2010, 09:25 AM   #24
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Looks like the press conference is in ~ 3 hours. Noon CT.

Agree, 2~3 year payback and 10 year life works for me. I'd assume that at ten years, you could 'refurb' the unit for less than the total cost, and installation would be a one-time cost. Subsequent payback cycles would be shorter.

I do hope the press conference provides real engineering numbers, that will go a long way to building some confidence in this, but in reality, even if all goes well, home based units are probably 10 years out. Industrial installs just make sense as a priority, due to economy of scale, monitoring for start-up problems, etc.

Here's an idea for Google - the Fuel Cell plates each put out ~ 1V DC. Each server box runs on low voltage, high current DC. So, configure the servers with a direct DC input (eliminate cost/waste in the switcher) and configure the FC with a matching number of plates for that voltage requirement. Run a string of small FCs (to keep the high current wiring short) along the back wall of the server cabinets. This eliminates the conversion from DC>AC and back again, and by co-locating them, transmission losses are reduced. This might actually be cost effective for big server farms.

I remembered another "B" company that was all the rage in fuel cells a few years back, "Ballard Power Systems". They have a home-sized unit, that interestingly enough outputs ~ 1,400 watts (1,234 watts to be precise):

Cogeneration Fuel Cell Benefits Hydrogen Energy | Ballard Power

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Old 02-24-2010, 11:32 AM   #25
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Fascinating, what I understand of it.
Their website has been updated.
It looks like they are a form of Solid Oxide fuel cells, however they don't require the high temperatures previous SOFCs have.
Efficiency is stated at 50%.
Power output is AC not DC but I see no mention of a built in inverter.
I agree the home units are a ways out, although I hope less than 10 years.

They are designed to work in a grid parrallel setup and can be used as a storage device as well (producing Hydrogen instead of electricity).

They also have more customers than I was aware.

Here is the data sheet: Bloom Energy | Be The Solution | Data Sheet
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Old 02-24-2010, 01:16 PM   #26
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Much better info now. I'm a little surprised by the 50% eff, was expecting more. I think most power plants are > 25%, even after transmission losses. I've seen an 8% number quoted many times for average transmission losses, remember that is 8% loss of the transmitted energy, so for a 35% eff plant, .92*35% = 32.2% delivered.

I wonder if they just didn't detail out the inverter, or if these new materials can be modulated at a 60 cycle rate? That would be interesting. The old Ballard FCs had a time constant of several seconds - a battery pack was needed in a vehicle to provide acceleration. I know an engineer that was working on a Ballard system for a bus. 10-15 years ago though.

I didn't see cost info, or anything on home units. TBD I guess. But even @ 50%, if they meet their cost projections, the payback looks attractive. And I like the idea of diversifying our energy supply (assuming we have enough NG available - I thought we had a shortage a few years back). I also like the fact that these seem to be easy to site, so they can be scattered around an area, less dependency on a big grid. I sure wouldn't mind having a few within miles of my house, to reduce susceptibility to black outs. Same with those small Nukes from Toshiba.

Looks pretty good, much better than the journalistic pseudo-science, I wonder when we will hear more?

Hah, I was also wondering if these could run on waste veggie oil? There isn't enough around to make a dent nationwide, but it would be interesting if a restaurant could power themselves on their old oil. I would think the plates would get contaminated if it wasn't purified though.

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Old 02-24-2010, 01:19 PM   #27
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Please explain this exchange (about 2/3 of the way through):
CEO: Our system can use fossil fuels like natural gas, our system can use renewable fuels like landfill gas, biogas...

60 Minutes: Solar?

CEO: We can use solar...

I see it as a dumb question. Perhaps the rest of his answer was "We can use solar to create hydrogen and use that..."
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Old 02-24-2010, 01:32 PM   #28
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I thought that was interesting as well.
From what I have been able to find, you are exactly right Al.
Digging down into some more information, their units can/will also be used to input electricity and get hydrogen out.
So I think this was a case of poor editing, or too little time to explain the details.
The idea for this usage would be to have a solar array create electricity which would then be used by the Bloom energy devices to produce hydrogen for use later (in cars?)

Another thing I find encouraging is in their 'contact us' section under 'sales info' there is a radio button for 'residential'. I suspect this is their next product which will be going into testing soon, if it isn't already.

All that said, I find it incredibly refreshing for a company to make the big announcement on 60 minutes, and then come out with some actual details in just a few days, rather than years or never.
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Old 02-24-2010, 01:43 PM   #29
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We're skeptical about this stuff, for good reason. However, someday one of these ideas is going to work as well or better than advertised. There are thousands of things in use today that are more innovative than the bloom box (cell phones, Internet, ATM's, laptops, electric pianos, etc.).
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Old 02-24-2010, 03:13 PM   #30
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Another take on 'solar':

I'm thinking they are referring to using solar to generate electricity to split water into hydrogen-oxygen, and then using the hydrogen to feed the BloomBox.

That way, you could have electricity when the sun isn't shining. Essentially using hydrogen as a storage medium (which is all it really is no matter how you use it).

I'm not sure there are many applications where that would be practical, but maybe I'm not thinking enough. For small applications (like far-from-the-grid radio systems), batteries work pretty well. But I don't know, maybe a hydrolysis system would have advantages over batteries in some applications. For big applications, it seems like water or air pumping is what people are looking at.

If this is all good, I hope they hurry up. If they take too long, I'm going to be too old to be looking for 10 year paybacks! Was it George Burns? " At my age, I don't even buy green bananas."

Ah, a lot depends on how much you pay after 10 years in maintenance. Cost of capital is one thing, then you have to amortize maybe $3,000 over 10 years, that's another $300/yr. Savings dwindle quite a bit, and then we have to worry about the cost of NG versus Electricity and who knows? And maintenance is a big unknown.

Certainly has promise, I guess we will just have to watch. And maybe T-Al will be right, maybe this thing actually progresses faster than estimates.

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Old 02-26-2010, 11:58 AM   #31
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Another data point, wish they gave the specifics, but:

The nitty-gritty details of the Bloom Energy box | Nanotech - The Circuits Blog - CNET News

Quote:
The cost is 9 to 10 cents a kilowatt hour, which includes maintenance, installation, natural gas.
I'm assuming that takes into account the lifetime of the unit, not so sure about cost of capital. So @ 9-10 cents per KWH, not gonna work for me at present rates here in IL (we have a number of nukes in the state). I read that the installs in CA were paying 14 rates.

So, when's the next 'big thing'?

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Old 02-26-2010, 12:44 PM   #32
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The VC has a Green fund. It isn't common for a fund to add investors along the way, although the investors do have to pony up more $ as needed. I suppose they could have Green Fund I, II & III with some of the same investments. My daughter works on the same street and is hoping the fund has a decent return.

Along that same line I asked her about the Telsa accident (she flew out of SFO the same day). She said there was heavy ground fog. Her firm does not permit more than one of their employees to fly on a plane without a professional pilot and strongly discourages more than two on the same flight.
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Old 02-26-2010, 12:45 PM   #33
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The never said the current product should work for you. The residential version is years away.
Also, if you are going to include installation and maintenance for the Bloom Energy Box (which is completely valid), you should include the same for your rates. Some of that is build into your bill I am sure. For example, my electric rate is 8.3c/Kwh. But when you add the other charges it is more like 9c/Kwh (in January, $15/Kwh in May but that is a different story).
Many large companies have found the idea of not being primarily reliant on the grid and only using the grid to help with spikes, to be a good deal. The CO2 reduction in most states is also a nice advantage, but that is not economy based.
I again feel this is a really big thing. No, it isn't free energy, never said it was, but it is a big advance for the infrastructures efficiency.
If by 'big thing' you are waiting for 'free energy' you will be waiting a while
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Old 03-08-2010, 10:39 AM   #34
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The never said the current product should work for you. The residential version is years away.
Also, if you are going to include installation and maintenance for the Bloom Energy Box (which is completely valid), you should include the same for your rates.
I know, but I'm projecting to their future costs, and it doesn't look that great.

My 'fully loaded' electric cost, including taxes, is 11.1/KWHr.
My 'fully loaded' Natural Gas cost, including taxes, is 77.1/THERM.

@ ~ 50% eff; I would have a fuel cost of ~ 5/KWhr with a fuel cell.

[ 1 Therm ~ 29Kwhrs; so ~50% gives ~15KWHr; so 77.1/15 ~ 5.14/KWHr in Natural Gas costs ]

So if we back my fuel costs out of the 9-10 cents number they give, that leaves ~ 4~5/KWHr for maint/installation. So even if all of that comes down by 50% (which is ~ what the $3,000 for a 1KW unit represents) that gets us to 5.14 fuel, plus ~ 2~2.5 maint/installation = 7.14~7.64/KWHr.

With a ... BIG IF...., IF their projections hold. And they are talking something like 10 years away for those costs. And a lot of unknowns in risk.

So no, I'm not too excited. But I will run the numbers again as we get closer. Oh yes, those costs include subsidies, so they don't go away, someone (we) are paying those costs. And if it is using fossil fuel (Natural Gas), the argument that those fuels are subsidized also only holds to the extent that it improves eff%.



Quote:
I again feel this is a really big thing. No, it isn't free energy, never said it was, but it is a big advance for the infrastructures efficiency.
If by 'big thing' you are waiting for 'free energy' you will be waiting a while
I'm certainly not expecting 'free energy'. But for all the hoopla, I should expect more than a promise that ten years from now, they might be able to reduce my bill by 35%, if x,y,z all happen. And with all the emphasis on NG, I have to wonder if those costs are going to rise faster than baseline electric costs over the next ten years.

I'd have to look up what % we get from Nukes here in IL, but this thing is probably adding to CO2 for me and millions of others.

So based on that, I just don't see this as a 'big thing'. If it makes sense in areas with higher KWHr costs, and 'dirtier' sources for those KWHrs, and/or they can feed it with waste biogas, then that is good, and they should buy them. I see it as an incremental, niche-filling, 'pretty good' thing. But not 'big', nope. I wonder why they didn't do the first installs at a sewage treatment plant to take advantage of all that methane (maybe because municipalities don't qualify for tax subsidies, since they don't pay taxes?).

I think the small nuclear plants like Toshiba is piloting sound more promising. They are talking about delivering 10/KWHr electricity, almost zero CO2 (mining and construction related only), no NG infrastructure or biogas source required, fuel is self-contained.

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Old 03-08-2010, 11:37 AM   #35
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I don't know if you caught the discussion of another 'green' electricity venture going just beyond the research stage - CO2 sequestration in calcium carbonate using sea water.

In both cases scalability is not proven but it does demonstrate that bright folks are working the problem.

When I was in college a computer with the capacity of today's laptop cost millions and took the space of an office building. I hope similar advancements can be made in clean energy not dependant on off-shore sources over the next 40 years.
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Old 03-08-2010, 12:38 PM   #36
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When I was in college a computer with the capacity of today's laptop cost millions and took the space of an office building. I hope similar advancements can be made in clean energy not dependant on off-shore sources over the next 40 years.
Well unfortunately, we can't really expect that kind of improvement from our 'green' technologies.

Yes, we have had many 1000x improvements in computer performance, but that is partially because the first systems were so far from their full potential. But, look at this fuel cell - ~50% efficient. The theoretical maximum efficiencies for fuel cells are around 70% (IIRC), but obviously no more than 100%. So efficiencies can't even improve by a factor of 2x, let alone 100x or 1000x. Costs and size can improve, maybe enough to move the numbers solidly in their favor, but I doubt it would be on the order of what computing has achieved.

Likewise, batteries and motors are already ~ 90% efficient, not much room to improve in efficiency (again, cost and size are more open ended).

PV, maybe 10% eff currently? I don't know if there are theoretical limits beyond the solar power per area. But there is at least some room there, if it can be done w/o a similar increase in cost. Or if cost per watt can be brought down, regardless of efficiency.

Maybe someone will come up with some never before thought of idea, and it won't be snake oil. We can hope, but I won't hold my breath. Fuel cells were first discovered over 100 years ago, we had electric cars 100 years ago, including series and parallel hybrids. Maybe those people in lab coats playing with the particle colliders will discover something other than a new particle to search for?

I think in 50 or 100 years, people will look back and say "the answer was right under their nose - why didn't they put more development into nuclear?". By then, I fully expect we will know how to handle the 'waste' (they won't call it waste, just another form of power). And I don't see any problem in just holding it on site until we figure out what to do with it. We will be smarter in 50 years, why jump to any 'solution' now. The French get 80% of their power from Nukes, and I think that is what they do. Is it a problem for them?


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Old 03-08-2010, 03:27 PM   #37
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Well.. they just found out that their waste is being dumped in Siberia!

Until we have a place to store this stuff I don't think we should add to the pile. Solve that little problem and nuclear is a go...
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Old 03-08-2010, 04:34 PM   #38
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We aren't going to see a Moore's Law in energy for the reason ERD cited at least not for existing energy sources. Last summer I attended an energy talk by Intel's Andy Grove and he pretty much made that point. Based on ERD's calculation the bloom is off the Bloom Box (groan) for me also. Although, maybe there is hope for dramatic improvements for nuclear or fusion.

BTW, if you haven't watched Bill Gate's TED talk about energy it is worthwhile. He is very excited about a type of breeder reactor and gives a nice shout out to ERD and my favorite energy book. Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air. Brat you should read the summary at least.
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Old 03-08-2010, 07:58 PM   #39
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Well.. they just found out that their waste is being dumped in Siberia!
Had to google that one - looks like some greenies took some comments out of context (or that were made out of context) and ran with it.

EDF denies sending nuclear waste to Russia | Reuters

Quote:
PARIS, Oct 12 (Reuters) - EDF (EDF.PA) is sending to Russia spent nuclear fuel that needs to be reprocessed, the French nuclear power producer said on Monday, denying a French press report that it was using Siberia to dump nuclear waste.
Although I actually did think they kept it all on site, so I learned something.

Quote:
Until we have a place to store this stuff I don't think we should add to the pile. Solve that little problem and nuclear is a go...
Solved. Store it the nuclear plant. Don't move it.

So let's apply that rule to every energy source we use:

Coal - spews out more radiation to the surrounding area than nuclear plants (tons and tons of coal have a little background radiation and this accumulates). Spews out CO2, sulfur, mercury, etc. So coal is not a 'go'. Shut 'em down.

Natural Gas - Spews out CO2, lesser amounts of other harmful stuff. So NG is not a 'go'. Shut 'em down.

Hydro - Some studies say that by damming up an area, the plants that were at one time part of the carbon cycle are now just rotting, giving up their CO2. Plus lots of cement used in their construction.

Cement CO2 Emissions

Quote:
Due to the large quantities of fuel used during manufacture and the release of carbon dioxide from the raw materials, cement production also generates more carbon emissions than any other industrial process.
Hydroelectricity - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

bold mine -

Quote:
Greenhouse gas emissions

Lower positive impacts are found in the tropical regions, as it has been noted that the reservoirs of power plants in tropical regions may produce substantial amounts of methane and carbon dioxide. This is due to plant material in flooded areas decaying in an anaerobic environment, and forming methane, a very potent greenhouse gas. According to the World Commission on Dams report[16], where the reservoir is large compared to the generating capacity (less than 100 watts per square metre of surface area) and no clearing of the forests in the area was undertaken prior to impoundment of the reservoir, greenhouse gas emissions from the reservoir may be higher than those of a conventional oil-fired thermal generation plant.[17]
Ooops! Hydro is not a 'go'. Shut 'em down.

Solar - it takes three years worth of energy to make one. I have yet to hear of a solar-powered solar cell plant. And there are questions about the dangerous chemicals used in production, and what to do with the panels after 30 years.

Wind - I think the bird kill issue is 'blown out of proportion' (heh-heh). I think wind looks pretty good, but there are still concerns about noise, and like solar, we still need baseline power.


I'm starting to think of the anti-Nukes as the 'party of NO!'. And every time they say NO to a Nuke, unless they actually did something to reduce energy consumption, they are probably saying "Yes" to a coal plant somewhere. Is that a 'win'?

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