a shiny box with a whole lot of mystery that's receiving a whole lot
of attention this week. The "Bloom Box" a roughly
cubic structure has already been embraced by eBay, Google,
Staples, FedEx, and Walmart, which extol its savings. But is
the new box the solution to all of mankind energy problems or a snake
oil remedy for the world's fossil fuel habit?In an exclusive
interview on the CBS television program 60
company K.R. Sridhar, CEO of Bloom Energy, gave the public a
tantalizing first peek at the secret alternative energy device.
And on Wednesday, he will follow that performance up with a major
public announcement in Silicon Valley, which will play host to such
distinguished guests as Colin Powell, California governor Arnold
Schwarzenegger, and a host of prominent venture capitalists.So
what is a Bloom Box exactly? Well, $700,000 to $800,000 will
buy you a "corporate sized" unit. Inside the box are
a unique kind of fuel
cell consisting of ceramic disks coated with green and black
"inks". The inks somehow transform a stream of
methane (or other hydrocarbons) and oxygen into power, when the box
heats up to its operating temperature of 1,000 degrees Celsius.To
get a view of the cost and benefits, eBay installed 5 of the boxes
nine months ago. It says it has saved $100,000 USD on energy
since. So assuming the maximum cost -- $4M USD -- the
investment on a Bloom Box would appear to take 30 years to recoup.
EBay says the five boxes generate more clean energy than the
company's 3,000 solar panels (assuming a bulk cost of $200/panel, and
additional expense that system would run around $1M USD, at a
minimum). Given those numbers the Bloom Box certainly doesn't
appear to be cheaper than solar power, though it claims to
be.Obviously the above math illustrates some of the
inconsistencies of the Bloom Box hype. However, the equation
could soon change. Mr. Sridhar hopes the funding that's being
virtually thrown at him and his enigmatic box will help drive down
costs to below $3,000 for a residential unit within 5 to 10 years.
Such costs could certainly make the technology competitive with solar
systems which cost anywhere from $20,000-$70,000 USD for home
installations.Mr. Sridhar originally invented a similar
device when he was working for NASA designing infrastructure for a
prospective Mars colony. Now he's market the device right here
on Earth.He says the upside is incredible, especially for the
energy hungry American consumer. He describes, "The way we
make it is in two blocks. This is a European home. The two put
together is a U.S. home." Inquires 60
Lesley Stahl, "Cause we use twice as much energy, is that what
you're saying?"Mr. Sridhar replies, "Yeah, and
this'll power four Asian homes...Four to six homes in our
country."Inside the box, one disc can produce energy to
"power a lightbulb" (60 W, assuming a full power
lightbulb). The discs are produced from baked sand and then
painted on each side with the special ink. In between the discs
an inexpensive metal (not platinum) is placed. According to Mr.
Sridhar, 64 discs could power a Starbucks.The Bloom Box has
some additional downsides; for one, it produces carbon dioxide
emissions, an alternative energy no-no. However, there's also
numerous upsides -- the boxes have a tiny footprint versus
alternatives (eBay's solar installation takes "acres and acres"
versus the five Bloom Boxes that can fit inside a large room).
The device could also be carbon neutral if it used carbon from plant
sources, such as algae or
switchgrass ethanol. And best of all it can produce at full
power 24-7 -- something no solar or wind generator can claim.So
is the "magic" box a stud or a dud? It's hard to
tell. About the only thing that's for sure is that Wednesday's
announcement should be intriguing.
quote: Personally, I'm not sure why people are so concerned with the black box development of a new product.
quote: One reason the companies have signed up is that in California 20 percent of the cost is subsidized by the state, and there's a 30 percent federal tax break because it's a "green" technology. In other words: the price is cut in half.
quote: Why? A government investment in research is one thing, but the government subsidizing actual production is generally harmful. It puts a technology out in the market before its ready for prime time, which wastes resources, hurts competing (and potentially superior) technologies, and builds an existing infrastructure which may act to actually retard future improvements.
quote: I can see you've never commercialized a product before.
quote: True competition is never bad. But "competition" in one side receives massive government subsidies skews the results and prevents the best solution from dominating.
quote: In the US, no commercial nuclear power plant has EVER killed or even injured anyone. No one at all..despite a half century of operation. That's a record that not even wind and solar can match.
quote: STILL worse is the fact that, even ignoring all the above, Chernobyl still killed fewer people than coal powered power plants do each and every single year.
quote: But uterine cancer? Not a chance in the world.
quote: Alexey Yablokov is a prominent Russian environmentalist, former member of USSR parliament and environmental advisor...Yablokov has been active in many efforts to reveal conservation and pollution challenges in Russia addressing such issues as illegal whaling. Yablokov focuses on the problems of radiation contamination...
quote: The five-kilowatt Bloom box has supposedly become “a high-functioning machine,” and the story even shows a picture of the white refrigerator-looking box. In a successful test at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga over the past two years, engineers ran a Bloom box on natural gas for 6,000 hours and found it to be twice as efficient as a boiler burning natural gas, with 60 percent lower carbon emissions. Kleiner partner Aileen Lee told Gertner that the Bloom box can produce electricity using natural gas or a variety of liquid fuels, including ethanol.
quote: To get a view of the cost and benefits, eBay installed 5 of the boxes nine months ago. It says it has saved $100,000 USD on energy since. So assuming the maximum cost -- $4M USD -- the investment on a Bloom Box would appear to take 40 years to recoup.
quote: Economies of scale mean it is never efficient to generate energy in the small scale (ie an individual corporation like Ebay).
quote: EBay says the five boxes generate more clean energy than the company's 3,000 solar panels (assuming a bulk cost of $200/panel, and additional expense that system would run around $1M USD, at a minimum). Given those numbers the Bloom Box certainly doesn't appear to be cheaper than solar power
quote: The earth's surface receives a bit more than 100,000 Terawatts of power.
quote: Even at 100% efficiency, which will never be possible, there is simply a flat limit at how much energy the sun puts out. It isn't really all that much honestly. Not nearly enough to be be dependent upon on a large scale.
quote: Even better would be putting a small Bloom box under the hood of my Volt as the range extender and rip out the old fashioned internal combustion engine!
quote: "On what planet do you pay a bulk price of $200 per 216W solar panel "