Bloomenergy today rolled out its Bloom Boxes, new-generation fuel cells that can generate electricity in the home (or the factory, or the server farm, or wherever). The cells take in oxygen from one direction, natural gas (or biogas) from another, and produce kilowatts in exchange.
The industrial-sized cells weigh ten tons; the home-sized ones are about the size of a refrigerator.
FedEx, Google, eBay, and WalMart are already testing the Bloom Boxes in the field--- or, in Google's case, in Mountain View, CA.
Fuel cells aren't exactly news--- like internal-combustion engines, they take in fuel and produce energy. But Bloomenergy claims new levels of efficiency.
And you'll be able to buy one for your home for under $3000, paying for itself in 3-5 years, a sum enhanced by the excess energy you could resell to your power company.
Wow! Sounds too good to be true!
Bloomenergy's press releases don't mention how long the boxes last, which would certainly be a factor in whether the average civitroid will want to own one. $3000 is a lot cheaper than plastering your roof with solar panels, but since the solar panels don't come with fuel costs, I'm not sure how they'd compare over the long haul.
Still--- it sounds pretty good. But that's what press releases are designed to do.
Elsewhere in energy news, Darpa has announced their intention to satisfy the Pentagon's jet-fuel needs with algae-based biofuel.
Darpa's research projects have already extracted oil from algal ponds at a cost of $2 per gallon. It is now on track to begin large-scale refining of that oil into jet fuel, at a cost of less than $3 a gallon, according to Barbara McQuiston, special assistant for energy at Darpa. That could turn a promising technology into a market-ready one. Researchers have cracked the problem of turning pond scum and seaweed into fuel, but finding a cost-effective method of mass production could be a game-changer. "Everyone is well aware that a lot of things were started in the military," McQuiston said.
The fuel is low in carbon, and thus a lot easier on the environment. And if the stuff can run your F-22, we're not that far away from stuff that can run your car. (In fact I'm sure it will work in your diesel just fine.)
McQuiston said a larger-scale refining operation, producing 50 million gallons a year, would come on line in 2011 and she was hopeful the costs would drop still further – ensuring that the algae-based fuel would be competitive with fossil fuels. She said the projects, run by private firms SAIC and General Atomics, expected to yield 1,000 gallons of oil per acre from the algal farm.
If all goes well (a goal which does not always obtain at the Pentagon) we'll soon be running the nation on pond scum and fuel cells (which will consume biogas made from pond scum).
Game-changing? More like world-saving.
If, of course, it's not all hype.